The Ticats had a 21-point halftime lead in Saturday’s win over the B.C. Lions and the coaching staff still wasn’t happy.
Hamilton stormed out to an early advantage for the second straight game, scoring on their opening possession then getting majors from both their defence and special teams. But then came the seemingly inevitable lull as the Lions scored nine points in the last two minutes of the half to at least make a game of it.
Ticat head coach Kent Austin had admonished his team for a similar letdown during a blowout win over Winnipeg the week before, when Hamilton got outscored in the second half while coasting to an easy victory.
“They need to understand that every play is important, every quarter is important, every half is important if we want to grow as a football team, if you want to get where we’re trying to get to,” Austin said. “We didn’t do that this game.”
The Lions opened the second half with the ball but on their first play from scrimmage, B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay was intercepted by Canadian defensive back Courtney Stephen. Four snaps later, Luke Tasker caught his first of two second-half touchdowns and the rout was well and truly on. Final score 52-26.
Hamilton guard Peter Dyakowski – formerly known as Canada’s Smartest Person – put the concept in mathematical terms.
“You often see teams who start strong fade a little bit: it’s regression towards the mean,” said Dyakowski. “A dominant team doesn’t relax, it stays up and keeps going.”
The Ticats have been a competitive team since the day Austin walked through the door. They’ve been a good, if a maddeningly inconsistent one, for much of the last two seasons. This year, however, the Ticats appear ready to take that next step, one that turns them into a wrecking crew on a weekly basis.
“The Cinderella story is cool and people like it but it doesn’t always work out in the end in real life,” Dyakowski said. “If we want to have our best shot at winning it, we need to be a dominant team that gets better every week.”
It’s hard to see how this team can improve on Saturday’s performance. Quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns in just three quarters of work. Brandon Banks scored two touchdowns, trucking a former CFL Most Outstanding Defensive player for one score, then racing 98 yards on a punt return for the other. Luke Tasker, rounding into form after an early-season injury, had two touchdown catches and was generally spectacular.
Meanwhile, Ticats defence is on a record-setting scoring pace. They now have six interception returns for touchdowns – Erik Harris registered another against the Lions – tying the club record set in 1965 and putting them one behind the CFL record of seven, set by the 2006 Toronto Argonauts. The league record for defensive touchdowns is 11, held by the 1987 B.C. Lions. The Ticats have seven with 11 games left.
B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay finished with 139 yards on 13 of 20 passing, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked four times and was pulled in the fourth quarter, likely for his own personal safety. Andrew Harris, who came into the game as the CFL’s leading rusher, finished with 36 yards on eight carries and fumbled twice, the first of which was returned 26 yards by defensive end Eric Norwood for a touchdown.
“It’s part of culture around here to be dominant,” Norwood said. “It’s going to be about handling the little things and making sure those are fine tuned: tackling well, blocking well – doing everything fundamentally sound. We need to stay the course the entire season.”
The victory ran the Ticats home winning streak to 10 games while improving their 2015 record to 5-2 – a far cry from 1-6 mark they held at this point last season. But the next four weeks will be challenging: on the road in Edmonton next Friday for a matchup of five-win teams, a home date against Montreal (who beat them in week three) then back-to-back against the Argos starting on Labour Day.
“We’re still able to get better but we’re going to face some serious tests,” Dyakowski said. “But since I’ve played here, I’ve never played for a better team.”
And this isn’t domination for its own sake: for a club that was Grey Cup runner-up in each of the last two seasons, this about taking a different path to a different outcome.
“This is all about the Grey Cup,” Norwood said. “Without that, we are just another team.”