The last time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won a regular season game in Montreal, Jeff Mathews was 11-years-old.
But the Ticats quarterback looked all grown up on Sunday afternoon, completing 21 of 25 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown while Justin Medlock hit five field goals as the visitors beat the Alouettes 23-11. It was the first victory by Hamilton team at Percival Molson Stadium since October of 2002.
“He stood in there, took the hits and made the throws tonight. Every week he’s been making better and better decisions,” said receiver Luke Tasker, who led Hamilton with 107 yards on eight catches, including an unbelievable over-the-shoulder number in the third quarter. “He’s absolutely talented enough to take us to a championship.”
Montreal quarterback Kevin Glenn, acquired via trade on Wednesday, looked very much like a guy playing with just two days of practice with his new club. The former Ticat tossed three interceptions and completed just 26 of his 43 passing attempts for 226 yards and a garbage time touchdown. He was also the victim of several dropped passes.
The Ticats also sacked Glenn three times and laid several other big hits as part of a strong defensive effort. The special units also contributed with a long punt return from Brandon Banks and a first quarter punt block by Mike Daly – the team’s league-leading sixth on the season – set up Hamilton’s only touchdown.
“As a team, that was a good, well-rounded win,” Tasker said.
Hamilton also got the running game going, particularly early. Starter Michael Ford had 45 yards on six carries before leaving with a lower body injury late in the first half while Anthony Woodson chipped in with another 38. The Ticats ran the ball a season-high 25 times and enjoyed a five minute advantage in the time of possession.
The ground attack kept the blitz-happy Alouettes at bay as the Ticats didn’t allow a single sack – though an unblocked Winston Venable laid a blindside hit on Mathews that led to Hamilton’s only turnover. Hamilton enjoyed a 4-1 advantage in that department as well, however.
With the win, the Ticats improve to 10-5 and take over sole possession of first place in the East Division, a game ahead of both Toronto and Ottawa. Hamilton actually qualified for the playoffs Saturday night, courtesy of the B.C. Lions loss to the Edmonton Eskimos but are targeting first place and a first round bye (not to mention a third straight Grey Cup appearance.)
“The table is set to do it all by ourselves: we’re right where we want to be,” Tasker said. “It’s tough to win here and to be up going into the last three games? Huge.”
For Montreal, their fourth straight loss drops them to 5-10 on the season and means their own route to the post-season is via a West Division crossover. Both Winnipeg and B.C. lost this weekend as well and are stuck on five wins. The Alouettes will need to get past both teams in the win column to make the post-season.
Hamilton’s victory also snaps a streak of 18 straight regular season losses in Montreal, including some tough ones under Austin the last two-plus seasons.
“You have to grow as a football team and part of that is to play well in places where you’ve had tough games,” Austin said. “It’s another step for our football team.”
Notes: Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence left the game in the second quarter with a suspected head injury and did not return… Ford has a lower body injury and also sat out the second half… the Ticats will have just two days of practice before heading to Vancouver to face the Lions next Friday… attendance was announced at 23,058… temperature was 3 degrees at game time and there were intermittent flurries on toque giveaway day… defensive tackle Drake Nevis and offensive lineman Landon Rice were the Hamilton scratches.
Quarterback Jeff Mathews says he’s seen Luke Tasker make the same spectacular catch a hundred times but the man himself isn’t so sure.
Tasker hauled in a 43-yard toss from Mathews mid-way through the third quarter in Sunday’s win over Montreal by looking back over his shoulder, bending backwards and securing the ball while falling down. Then he got up and ran for more yards.
“Was that not an unbelievable catch? It’s what that guy does. he’s a talented receiver and if you get it near him, he’s going to come down with the football,” said head coach Kent Austin. “Just unbelievable concentration and to arch his back like did and track it all the way… pretty amazing.”
Mathews played with Tasker at Cornell and the two work out together in the off-season so he’s seen plenty of Tasker’s acrobatics.
“I threw that thing up there and I’ve seen him make that catch 100 times between practice and everything. He works on those things,” Mathews said. “For him to do that in this situation was amazing.”
The grab was Tasker’s longest of the day and easily the best of his eight catches. And despite what Mathews says, it was not exactly routine.
“I don’t know,” Tasker. “I’ve always liked catching those but never one quite like that.”