The Hamilton Tiger-Cats may be facing life without quarterback Zach Collaros and the early returns are decidedly bleak.
Back up Jeff Mathews threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and third stringer Jacory Harris committed a late fumble which set up the game winning field goal with under a minute to play as Hamilton fell 25-18 to the Edmonton Eskimos Saturday evening at Tim Hortons Field.
It was a disaster on many fronts. Collaros went down with a knee injury early in the second quarter and while the full severity of Collaros’ situation is still unknown, but multiple sources say it is a suspected ACL injury.
Mathews took over and he was hardly Collaros-esque. He threw for 157 yards on 12 of 20 passing, three interceptions – including the two pick sixes – and fumbled once. He was replaced in the fourth quarter by Harris, whose fumble led to the winning points.
Collaros looked sharp before the injury, completing seven of ten passes for 90 yards and the game’s first touchdown, a 10-yard strike to Terrence Tolliver. But even that score came at a cost: starting left tackle Jake Olson went down with a knee injury that knocked him from the game.
Then what could a season-altering moment: Collaros hit from behind by Edmonton’s Mathieu Boulay as the Ticat quarterback scrambled for first down yardage. It didn’t look particularly vicious but Collaros tore off his helmet immediately and his teammates soon gathered around him. He left the field – gingerly – and went straight to the locker room.
Mathews finished the drive, which ended with a 10-yard Justin Medlock field goal and gave the home side a 10-0 lead.
Edmonton got their first points off a Ticat safety, then followed that up with a 29-yard Sean Whyte field goal as quarterback Mike Reilly – playing just his second game since returning from his own knee injury – completed just four-of-12 passes in the first half.
Mathews put together a nice drive to end the half, completing three passes and setting up a 42-yard Medock field goal on the final play of the first 30 minutes and giving Hamilton a 13-5 lead.
The game was played in blustery conditions and Hamilton played the field position game to force Edmonton into conceding a safety early in the third. But on the very next play, Mathews threw an interception to Edmonton’s Otha Foster that was returned all the way for a touchdown to cut the Ticat advantage to just four.
Medlock kicked another field goal and the Ticats looked set to further extend their lead but Mathews threw his second interception in the end zone. The Hamilton defence responded with one of their own as Emanuel Davis hauled his league-leading fifth of the season.
But Mathews threw another pick six to Aaron Grymes, who returned it 68 yards for a touchdown and tied the game at 18 with just over eight minutes to go. Harris took over at quarterback but committed a late fumble that set up the Edmonton offence in Hamilton territory with under two minutes to play.
Seven plays later, Kendial Lawrence scampered in from four yards out for the winning points.
With the loss, the Ticats fall to 8-4 heading into their second and final bye week of the season.
The break was supposed to be one of rest and recuperation, one final bit respite before the stretch run. Instead, the next two weeks – the Ticats don’t play again until Oct. 2 – will be filled with speculation about Collaros’ health and whether Hamilton’s very real Grey Cup aspirations just took a massive hit.