Ticats dismantled by Lions 40-13

Emmanuel ArceneauxThe Hamilton Tiger-Cats had a chance to clinch a home playoff game and blew that golden opportunity by getting blown out 40-13 by the BC Lions.

Things started off well, with a nice first-down fun by C.J. Gable on the game’s opening play followed up by a 64-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Mathews to Luke Tasker. It looked like the Ticats were picking up where they left off last week in Montreal, and that they would roll to win No. 11.

But that was about it for the good stuff from Hamilton.

The wheels fell off almost immediately. The Ticats had their extra point attempt blocked, which was the start of a flurry of miscues that evaporated Hamilton’s lead rather quickly.

Brandon Banks inexplicably brought a punt out of the end zone and was tackled at the two-yard line. Two deflected passes later, the Ticats conceded a safety. On the post-safety kickoff, the Ticats gave up a huge return to Chris Rainey and on the very next play the Lions scored a touchdown to take a lead they would never relinquish. Not long after that, Junior Collins fumbled deep in Hamilton territory to set up another BC touchdown and Brandon Banks had a second brain fart on special teams, and allowed a punt to roll into the end zone for an unnecessary single late in the first half. Before you knew it, the Lions were ahead 24-6 at halftime. The Ticats simply turned the ball over too much and BC, to their credit, capitalized on those mistakes.

Jeff Mathews had an OK night, though he didn’t look nearly as poised as he did in his last two starts. He finished 22 of 32 for 270 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw the two interceptions, one of which led to the final touchdown of the night. He also seemed to have a hard time handling BC’s pass rush, as he looked frazzled most of the night and was sacked five times. If Mathews plays mistake-free football, the Ticats have a great chance to win. But if he, and the team, turns the ball, especially if they do so deep in their own territory, things seem to start snowballing out of control. It happened against Edmonton and it happened again last night.

One of the biggest issues Hamilton seemed to face last night was the offensive line’s inability to handle the stunting schemes of the BC defensive line. On plenty of occasions, the Lions would stunt and twist their front four and find open pockets in Hamilton’s pass protection. It was a problem all night, and was compounded when a pair of Hamilton linemen, tackle Cordaro Howard and guard Ryan Bomben, left the game due to injury. But even when their line was fully intact, they still had no answer for the Lions pass rush. Mathews is not going to make many plays with his feet, so the offensive line needs to be better than they were against a Lions team that, with all due respect, isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire defensively.

But even in the darkness, they were a couple of bright spots. While he didn’t see the ball a ton, C.J. Gable had a mildly successful first game back. He totted the rock nine times for 45 yards and caught three passes for 25 yards. Not massive numbers, but respectable. And he made it out of the game healthy, which is the most important part. Obviously the gameplan shifted when the Lions jumped out to a big lead, which negated the ability to consistently run the football, but Gable will be a big part of the offense going forward and his work load will increase as the season winds down.

The Ticats also have to be happy with the production of Luke Tasker and Andy Fantuz. Taker was his typical self, catching five balls for 93 yards and a touchdown. This is what you expect from Tasker on a weekly basis, so no one should be surprised that he produced once again. Fantuz, playing in his second game since returning from an elbow injury that shelved him for nine games, really seemed to find his rhythm in the second half. He caught all five of his passes for 51 yards and touchdown in the game’s final 30 minutes, with three of those catches, including the touchdown, coming on one drive in the third quarter. While there are not many positives one can pull from a 27-point loss, the play of those three is definitely one of them.

Defensively, this was probably the worst game Hamilton has played all year. They generated almost no pass rush, could not cover BC’s receivers and allowed Andrew Harris to break out of his funk, one that pretty much started against the Ticats back in August. This marks another game where the Ticats were unable to get pressure on the opposing quarterback. This unit was lauded as one of the league’s best for most of the first half of the season, but since Labour Day they have been a shell of their former selves. One has to wonder what has changed in the second half of the season, but the Ticats need to start getting much more out of their talented front four than they have been over the last few weeks.

The Ticats simply stunk last night. Period. Regardless of how desperate the Lions were, Hamilton should not have looked this bad against a team that is fighting for their playoff lives. The 27-point margin of defeat is the largest loss this team has suffered under Kent Austin since a 31-point loss to the Montreal Alouettes back in October, 2013. This team got its butt kicked, plain and simple.

And now the back-to-back series with the Ottawa Redblacks, that started to look bigger and bigger as the season progressed, takes on even greater significance, especially if the Redblacks defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers later today. In all likelihood, the winner of the Ticats-Redblacks two-game series will host the East Final on November 15.

Hamilton had a golden opportunity to put more distance between themselves and Ottawa and Toronto, and failed to do so. Their playoff future still rests in their hands, but they just made the road a little rougher with this loss to the Lions.

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.