As the Tiger-Cats returned to practice Monday, Kent Austin referred to the number of plays which, with opposite results, could have won his team Friday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders.
Had only one or two of those plays turned in Hamilton’s favour, the Cats might not have lost 23-20 to the visiting Stamps via Rene Paredes’ 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play, with a wailing wind at his back.
One he didn’t mention was a play which, had it gone differently, wouldn’t have won the game for the Cats but probably wouldn’t have contributed so directly to losing it.
When Justin Medlock tried to launch the ball into the teeth of the howling gale for the second time in two minutes and his punt travelled just 10 yards – and was returned five – to give the ball to the Stamps at the Ticat 39 yard line with just nine seconds left, the game was virtually over.
“I just dropped it, the nose took a dive and I just hit the bottom of it,” Medlock says. “It was just a bad punt.”
The Ticats activated Hugh O’Neill early in the season to take some of the kicking pressure off Medlock and allow him to focus on place-kicking, his real bread and butter.
That worked well, as Medlock stands second in the CFL in field-goal accuracy, but O’Neill has been injured since late August and doesn’t look like he’ll be back any time soon, so it’s Medlock punting and kicking all the way home.
Since the Ticats’ home is pretty much a wind tunnel most games, he’ll be hoofing into a lot of stiff breezes, or worse, for the duration.
And with an offence that is anticipated to score fewer points with the ACL-ing of Zach Collaros, Medlock becomes even more important than he already was: not just for the field goal dependability but to punt his team out of field-position jams.
“I don’t really think about that too much, I just think of my own performance out there,” he said. “But maybe (Jeff Mathews) will turn out to be an all-star.”
It is not news to Medlock that he cannot have many more punts like Friday’s final flopper. One might be too many.
That, incidentally, was his fourth punt into the wind in the fourth quarter alone (to go along with two in the equally as nasty second quarter) which tells you something else: the Ticat offence could not hang onto the ball nearly long enough.
In two separate possessions in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game, the Hamilton offence used up a mere 38 seconds, combined. That’s eating the clock only in the way anorexics eat.
Still, had Medlock connected the way he did earlier in the fourth quarter, cutting into the stiff wind for 48 yards, or even on his punt 90 seconds earlier (30 yards), the Cats could probably have urged the game into overtime.
That, like a number of other Cat-favoring possibilities, did not happen.
Medlock says he won’t complain about the wind nor his on-again, off-again, on-again, punting assignment.
Still, he does break them both down, explaining that he sometimes tries to wait for a break in the gusts, then signal for an immediate snap to take advantage of the comparative doldrums. The Cats, though, nearly had one punt blocked under those circumstances because they were changing formations. He says it’s difficult to angle punts into the Tim Hortons Field wind when the most precarious step in the process becomes the drop of the ball to the foot. Strong headwinds can really affect that path.
And, he adds, adding the punting chores, “kind of throws me off rhythm, I was punting and then I stopped. But now I’m starting to get back into it.”
Medlock says he was able to flush out the bad feelings after about three tough post-punt hours Friday night.
“Being a kicker,” he shrugs, “is short-term memory.”
But fans remember a lot longer.
NOTES: The Ticats had a ball-retention drill for ball carriers at practice Monday, and Kent Austin took part for a couple of minutes, trying to strip the ball from Brandon Banks… Austin says centre Mike Filer, hurt in Friday’s loss, “is a day-to-day thing” and that defensive end Adrian Tracy, who had to leave the game, “doesn’t look good. But there hasn’t been a final determination on him” . . .Eric Norwood, who was having a brilliant year on the defensive line before being injured, is only “iffy” to return Friday night against Saskatchewan… with his runback Friday, Brandon Banks has four punt returns for TDs this season. The CFL record is five by Gizmo Williams in 1991. Earl Winfield also had four for the Ticats in 1988.