Emanuel Davis ran an interception into the end zone just 77 seconds from the start of the game, then did it all again just 94 seconds from the end of the game.
And in the intervening 57 minutes of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ ninth straight win – against zero losses – since Tim Hortons Field was born, the Cats served notice that when their offence loses some sync, they are a major CFL force.
Davis had what his offensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer called “a game for the memories” with his second and third pick-sixes of the season and a couple of difficult knock-downs on his 26th birthday. The last time he was tackled on an interception was in November 2013.
“The stuff that nobody knows is that he’s always been that guy that’s been on the bubble, ” Steinauer said of the Cats’ 38-8 rout of Winnipeg on Sunday.
“He’s been on and off the roster, on the practice roster, but he stuck at it and all he did all training camp is make plays, ” Steinauer said.
“He’s just a warrior, so I’m glad to see him get rewarded and most of all, that it helped us win the game.”
Davis is a third-year Cat, and personifies the steady evolution of the Hamilton defence over that time, which coincides with Steinauer’s term here.
He started at field quarterback in his first season but the Cats turned that into “national” (Canadian) position and he was no longer a starter, nor even a lock to dress for games.
“The ratio kind of got me, so I just had to wait my time and luckily it’s paying off right now, ” Davis said. “It’s hard, but that’s the business. You have to stay ready for when your number’s called, hopefully you make plays and stay on the field.
“I’m just happy to be part of something great this year.”
A tough, if not overly big defensive back Davis, like the rest of the secondary, has benefited from the constant, unpredictably varied, pressure from the Ticats front seven. The defensive line had seven sacks Sunday, underscoring the development arc from Davis’ first Ticat season when there were a lot of hurries but few sacks till later in the season. Last year those hurries became more sacks and this year, there are hurries, sacks and constant pressure.
That, of course, allows the defensive backs to play closer to intended receivers, and permits the calculated chances that Steinauer has been encouraging from Day 1 of the Kent Austin era. His first pick Sunday came off a Drew Willy pass tipped slightly by defensive lineman Bryan Hall, but Davis had already jumped the route, then grabbed the ball for an unmolested 65-yard unmolested run to the end zone. His second pick, off ex-Cat Brian Brohm who was under pressure, went for 53 yards.
“Over the three years, we’ve been able to play tighter to the receivers, ” Davis said. “It all starts up front in football. I feel like we have one of the best D lines in the league if not the best. Playing behind those guys is easy because the quarterback usually has to get the ball out before he wants to.
“As far as the back end’s concerned, I feel like pressure is the same as a sack because it’s making the quarterback make a decision when he doesn’t want to, ” Davis added.
Defensive end Justin Hickman, who returned to the Ticats from the NFL last September, agrees that the Ticats are taking advantage of a strong symbiosis between the pass rush and the tighter, anticipatory coverage.
“We’re starting to get it, ” said Hickman, who had three sacks Monday but not only will not be CFL defensive player of the week …. he wasn’t even his team’s defensive player of the game.
“The back end’s covering a little tighter, we’re getting in our gaps a little tighter up front.”
“We’re fine tuning.”