Last week’s contest against the Saskatchewan Roughriders was dubbed by yours truly as a gotta-win game. Not a must win — must wins are for games where a loss eliminates you from the post-season conversation — but it was a game the Ticats needed to win if they were to start building some momentum heading into November.
They won, so everything was good for a week.
Now we enter another game that is not a must win, but one the team should win. The Ticats are 9-5, while their opponents, the Montreal Alouettes, are 5-9 and clinging to their playoff lives. Hamilton can secure an East Division playoff spot with a victory over Montreal tomorrow — they can secure at least the crossover with a loss by the BC Lions tonight — and doing so would be big for a team that needed a Week 20 victory over these very same Alouettes a year ago to secure their spot in the post season.
Avoiding the sweep
Beating the Als has been easier said than done. Despite the fact that most impartial observers would say that the Ticats are a superior team to the Alouettes, Montreal has somehow found a way to beat the Ticats not once, but twice this season. The first win came in July in Montreal, with the second coming in late August in Hamilton. The Als have not swept the season series against the Ticats since 2009, so recent history seems to be on the side of a Ticats victory.
Breaking the curse
While recent history might portend to a Ticats win, a much longer look at history does not paint such a rosy picture. The Ticats enter this game, as they did back in July, having not won in Montreal since 2002. To put that into perspective, Ricky Ray was a rookie, Milt Stegall was named league MOP and the Ottawa Renegades were in their first year of existence. A lot has happened in the intervening 13 years, but one thing that hasn’t is a Ticats win at Molson Stadium. It almost seems inexplicable that the Ticats, regardless of coaches or players, can’t win at McGill. But if they want to avoid the sweep and possibly falling behind the Toronto Argonauts in the standings, the Ticats will need to find a way to win in a place where wins have not come their way in a very long time.
Playing the same quarterback in back-to-back weeks isn’t all that unusual in the CFL. Teams play back-to-back games all the time. What is unusual is playing the same QB when you aren’t playing the same team. That is what the Ticats will do this week after the Montreal Alouettes traded for Saskatchewan Roughriders QB Kevin Glenn at the trade deadline. Last Friday, Glenn started for the Riders against the Ticats, but was pulled at halftime. Now Glenn can try to get a small measure of revenge against the team he piloted to the playoffs three times.
Glenn has had his fair share of success against the Ticats since they shipped him to Calgary following the 2011 season. He has suffered defeat against them just three times, with two of those losses coming this season. In fact, Glenn has lost his last three starts against the Ticats, with his last win coming way back in Week 7 of last year when he was a member of the BC Lions. In the three games since, Glenn has thrown just one touchdown while also tossing two interceptions. He has also not finished both of the last two games, getting injured against the Ticats back in Week 5 of this season and being pulled in favour of rookie Brett Smith last Friday.
The Als brought Glenn in to help them make a push for the playoffs. That may have to wait a week as the Ticats, at least recently, seem to have Glenn’s number.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams unit is arguably the league’s best. They have the most-feared returner in the game in Brandon Banks and one of the most-accurate and deadly kickers in the league in Justin Medlock. But they also have a knack for blocking punts, doing so five times in 15 games this season, tops in the league. It seems whenever Hamilton needs a spark, they get one from their special teams unit. The Als have not had a punt blocked all season, so this game will feature Jeff Reinebold matching wits with Kavis Reed, and it could be a case where the team that makes the key special teams play comes away victorious.
While nothing is official yet, this game could see the return of the league’s best Canadian receiver, Andy Fantuz. Fantuz was leading the Ticats in yards and receptions when he injured his elbow in a freak play against the Argos back in early August. Fantuz looked poised for a big year until a slip and awkward fall cost him nine games. Injuries have plagued Fantuz pretty much every season since he entered the league, but when he plays he is one of the most-reliable pass catchers in the entire CFL. His addition will make life easier for Jeff Mathews, who will be making his first career road start for the Ticats tomorrow, and will give the Ticats one of the most-lethal receiving corps in the league. The return of Fantuz could not have come at a better time.