Forty-five minutes after Friday’s 23-20 loss to Calgary, Hamilton Tiger-Cat running back Michael Ford sat at his locker, still fully dressed in his black and gold uniform. He looked tired and deservedly so: not only was it a tough game but, for Ford, it’s been a long journey as well.
Signed by the team before training camp, he played three games before being released Aug. 1. He went directly from Hamilton to Seattle, where he worked out for the NFL’s Seahawks, then home to Louisiana, then up to Atlanta for a tryout with the Falcons. They signed him that day, cut him three weeks later. Then it was back to Louisiana until the Cats came calling. Again!
“I didn’t expect it, but that’s football, ” Ford said. “Crazy things happen.”
Like 60 km/h winds during a game, which is what the Ticats and Stamps faced on Friday night. Everything – passing, kicking, standing upright – was made more difficult by the diabolical breeze. Getting a true sense of rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews, who was making his first career start in place of the gone-for-the-season Zach Collaros, was all but impossible.
Mathews’ base numbers were OK-ish: 155 yards on 15 of 23 passing and wind-aided interception. His third-quarter fumble was one of two palm-to-forehead moments: an inexcusable red-zone miscue that cost his team points in the third quarter and a time-count violation late in the fourth (though replays seemed to show a Ticat receiver signalling for a timeout before the clock ran out).
But there were plenty of encouraging signs, too. Mathews’ production was significantly better in the second half – he had just 36 yards passing at the break – and he engineered a fourth-quarter TD drive into the gale-force winds for the lead.
And for those who still subscribe to the theory that repatriating Kevin Glenn from Regina would be an instant improvement, consider this.
Saturday, Glenn threw for just 185 yards and tossed two interceptions against a B.C. defence that came into the game ranked dead last in yards allowed. The Riders, in desperation mode, came up way short. It will be interesting to see their state-of-mind Friday when they come to town to take on the Ticats.
Nor was Mathews the only one to make a mistake for Hamilton.
In addition to his shanked punt, Jason Medlock missed a 40-yard field goal in the third, one that would have given them a lead. Kick-returner Brandon Banks scored on a punt return, but also had a costly fumble and gave up an unnecessary single when he played a kickoff in the end zone. Receiver Giovanni Aprile dropped a long pass early, and defensive end Arnaud Gason-Nadon dropped a late interception.
Against a lesser team, these miscues might be survivable, but not against Calgary, a team 6-1 this season in games decided by four points or less. As one Ticat veteran put it post game, you can’t leave the door open for a team that doesn’t beat themselves. The Stamps found a way to get it done because that’s what good teams can do: they are the defending champs for a reason.
When they lost Collaros, the Ticats didn’t just lose a most outstanding player candidate, they also gave up their margin for error. Mathews was in a tough spot on Friday – trailing late, going into the gale – and he delivered an improbable touchdown. Sure, he could have done more. But there’s plenty of responsibility to go around.
That goes for Ford, too. He had 50 yards rushing on 10 carries and chipped in another 67 receiving – including the key fourth quarter play that set up the go-ahead score. But he also lost a fumble, losing the ball after a teammate accidentally kicked it from his grasp. Crazy things happen in football.
“It sucked because we lost. Any time you lose, it doesn’t matter how great the stats are, ” Ford said. “It’s all about the W. I don’t feel good about anything right now.