Ticats fall to Stamps 23-20 in ugly affair

JLR 9621.JPGThat was hideous.

Poor play and terrible conditions made last night’s Hamilton-Calgary game one of the ugliest games played so far in 2015. Neither team played particularly well, with mistakes and miscues happening on nearly every single series, and with sustained wind guts making it nearly impossible for either offense to find a rhythm.

And that is where making any sorts of judgments about this game becomes difficult. The wind played such a factor that it is hard to tell if the mistakes both teams made were due to the conditions or just sloppy play.

In the aftermath, people are likely going to spew quite a bit of vitriol at quarterback Jeff Mathews. Mathews, admittedly, did not have a good game, going 15 of 23 for 155 yards and one interception, with over a third of those yards coming on one play. Mathews once again made too many mistakes, the two most glaring being a fumble in the red zone in the third quarter when the Ticats were driving and had the wind, and a time-count violation with less than three minutes remaining that cost the Ticats a down, forced them to punt and led directly to Calgary’s first of two last-minute field goals. It was far from the debut many black and gold followers were hoping for, but it also wasn’t the unmitigated disaster many outsiders were predicting. We will get a much better indication of what this team will be able to do with Mathews under centre next week against Saskatchewan, unless more tornado-like winds are in the forecast. If another subpar performances comes six days from now, then people should probably worry.

But Mathews wasn’t the only player to have an up-and-down game. Any player deserving of praise also did something deserving of scorn. Brandon Banks electrified the crowd early with a beautiful punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter, but later fumbled a punt that set up Calgary’s lone touchdown drive. Emanuel Davis was nearly unbeatable all night, and even forced Calgary’s only turnover when he striped Eric Rogers of the ball in the second quarter, but he wiped what could have been a game-sealing turnover off the board with an illegal contact penalty that negated a Courtney Stephen interception late in the fourth quarter. Michael Ford had a beautiful catch and run to set up Hamilton’s only offensive touchdown, but also fumbled on the play right after the Davis strip of Rogers. A play, I might add, where it looked like Ford found the right hole, made the right cuts and was about to go for a big gain. Justin Medlock hit a 57-yard field goal in the first quarter, but also missed a 40-yard field goal going the same way in the third and badly shanked his final punt of the game, setting up Calgary in Ticats territory with under a minute to play. This lose cannot be pinpointed on one player or one play or even one set up plays. It was death by 1,000 paper cuts, and many of the players who made the game close, were also responsible for the mistakes the cost the Ticats the game.

Simply put, Hamilton made too many mistakes against a good team and were unable to hold on to a late lead. That said, it took four turnovers, a rookie QB making his first career start, and winds gusts the likes of which I have never seen for the purported best team in the league to get the win. While moral victories mean nothing, the Ticats hung in this game and, just like in their Week 13 contest against Edmonton, they could have won this game if the bounces had gone their way.

And despite the last three weeks producing roster changes, both of their own making and ones forced upon them, and two mistake-filled losses, the Ticats still sit in first place in the East with five winnable games coming up on the schedule. The dream of a 14-win season is dead, and maybe even a 13- or 12-win season is now unlikely, but with games against Saskatchewan, Montreal and BC over the next three weeks, the Ticats could find themselves once again in the driver’s seat as they head into what is building up to be crucial back-to-back contests with the suddenly surging Ottawa Redblacks to end the season.

This was an ugly game in almost every facet, so let’s not judge anyone too harshly based on last night’s outcome. Let’s see what this team can do in more ideal conditions before we start writing any obituaries on an 8-5, first-place team.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.