Lots at stake as Chris Williams returns to Hamilton

Chris Williams

Defensive back Cleshawn Page is a little fuzzy on the sordid details surrounding Chris Williams’ controversial departure from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but there’s one thing he’s certain of.




“He’s fast, that I do know,” Page said.

Williams played two stellar seasons for Hamilton, earning CFL most outstanding rookie honours in 2011, then posting five punt return touchdowns the following year as the league’s most outstanding special teams player. He was a 1,000 yard receiver in both campaigns.

But Williams sued the team to get out of the third-and-final year of his contract with Hamilton, ultimately winning his freedom – and the ire of Ticat fans – before joining the New Orleans Saints and then Chicago Bears of the NFL. He played seven games over two seasons down south before signing with the Ottawa Redblacks last winter.

He’ll make his long-awaited return to Hamilton on Sunday, as Ottawa comes to town for the first of a key home-and-home match up that’s will decide the pecking order in the East. Tied at 10 wins a piece, the two teams are playing what amounts to a two-game, total points series for first in the division. The Ticats can finish no lower than second and will host a home playoff game, either the East Semi-Final on Nov. 15 or the final on Nov. 22.

Stopping Williams – who is third in the league with 1,140 receiving yards – falls to Page, who is being inserted into the Hamilton secondary for his first CFL start specifically to counter Williams’ quickness. Page ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.2 seconds at his pro day last March.

“When I watch film, a lot guys are scared to press him because of his speed,” Page said of Williams. “I’m not afraid of him – I couldn’t ask for anything better. I know they are going to come after me and I’m looking forward to it.”

Who will be throwing the ball to Williams remains an open question, however. Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris missed his third straight day of practice on Friday and Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell – after insisting all week that Burris would start – waffled on whether the former Ticat would be available.

Hamilton defensive tackle Bryan Hall said he fully expects Burris to be behind centre Sunday afternoon and not back up Thomas DeMarco.

“I believe Hank is going to play, I’m not falling for the banana in the tailpipe at all,” Hall said.”We’re preparing if the starter is going to be in and if not, then we still know what the offence wants to do.”

The Ticats are coming off a demoralizing 40-13 defeat at the hands of the B.C. Lions, their worst loss in over two years under head coach Kent Austin. Hall says rebounding from that performance trumps everything else that’s at stake.

“I don’t think we can worry about anything else but getting a win,” Hall said. “We’re the last team that needs to be talking about dominance over anybody. We just got our butt kicked.”

If the Ticats are concerned about recent history, then the return of Williams certainly qualifies as ancient. Most of the players Williams played with have moved on, though receiver Bakari Grant is an exception. The two have stayed in touch and texted this week.

“He’s a good guy and I’ll speak highly of his character. Sometimes things on the business side don’t go the way that player or the team or the fans want it to go,” Grant said. “It’s a situation that’s behind him and he’s playing well.”

And the fans?

“If people want to boo him, that just helps us so I’m all for that,” Grant laughed. “I’m going to boo him.”

Henry Burris Khalil Bass

Game 17
Ottawa Redblacks (10-6) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (10-6)
Tim Hortons Field
Sunday, Nov. 1
Game time: 1 p.m. EST

TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150

The storyline for Ottawa:  After posting two wins in their expansion season, the Redblacks are contending for the division title this year. Sunday’s game is the first of a back-to-back to set with Hamilton that’s likely to decide first place in the East, essentially an old school, two-game total points series. The Redblacks have a number of ex-Ticats with varying degrees of axe to grind, including quarterback Henry Burris, receivers Chris Williams and Greg Ellingson as well as general manager Marcel Desjardins.

Key injuries: Burris missed all three days of practice this week with a knee injury suffered last week’s win over Winnipeg, though he’s still campaigning to play. If he can’t go, back up Thomas DeMarco – who has six career CFL starts – will get the nod. Defensive back Jerrell Gavins, who has started all 15 games this season and has four interceptions, is likely out.

Five funky Ottawa stats:

1. Ottawa has recorded 454 pass completions through their first 16 games and are on pace for 511, a new CFL record. The current record is 495, was set by Toronto in 1998 and tied by Montreal in 2008.

2. Henry Burris has 436 completions this season and needs 44 more to pass Ricky Ray’s CFL mark of 479, set in 2005.

3. The Redblacks are 10-6 but have a minus-18 point differential on the season. Only two clubs in CFL history have  finished four games or more above .500 and been outscored for that season.

4. The Redblacks have 14 players who have start all 16 of their games this season. The Ticats have seven.

5. The  Redblacks have two receivers with 1,000 yards (Chris Williams and Brad Sinopoli) and two more (Earnest Jackson with 935 yards and Greg Ellingson with 894) within striking distance. Ottawa has never had three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season and only two teams in CFL history have had four (the Alouettes in 2004 and 2005.)

The storyline for Hamilton: The Ticats are coming off a bad loss to the B.C. Lions but still control their own fate in the East: a sweep of Ottawa, a split with an advantage in the point differential or a split and two Argo wins earns them first place and a first-round bye. The Redblack defence is aggressive – they lead the league in sacks and are tied for first in interceptions – and could pose a challenge for rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews.

Key injuries: Hamilton lost two starting offensive linemen against the Lions as left tackle Cord Howard and guard Ryan Bomben both went down. Receiver Terrence Toliver will miss his fourth straight game.

Roster changes and what they mean: Cleshawn Page makes his first career start at the boundary corner, a speedster inserted into the line up to contend with the speed of Ottawa’s Chris Williams. He’s in for Rico Murray, who sits. Joel Figueroa takes over at left tackle for Howard with Tim O’Neill in at guard for Bomben. Landon Rice will be added as an extra offensive linemen. Jalil Carter will be the sixth defensive back in place of Ed Gainey.

Five funky Hamilton stats:

1. The Ticats have a plus-28 turnover ratio in their 10 wins, and are minus-11 in their six losses.

2. The Ticats have followed four of their previous five losses with a decisive win, posting an average margin of victory of more than 20 points.

3. In the last six games, Hamilton has not had a player rush for more than 54 yards, something that’s happened just twice all season (C.J. Gable’s 135 yards on July 26 and Ray Holley’s 84 on Sept. 7.)

4. At 24 years, 2 months, Jeff Mathews is the third youngest starting quarterback in the CFL. Only B.C.’s Jonathan Jennings and Saskatchewan’s Brett Smith are younger.

5. Last week against B.C. Hamilton allowed 16 first quarter points, snapping a four-game streak in which they had shut out their opponent on in the first 15 minutes.

TSN play-by-play: Gord Miller and Matt Dunigan with Matt Scianitti.

Referee: Andre Proulx.

The weather forecast: Mostly sunny, 14 degrees with winds out of the west at 35 km/h.

•••

Here are the remaining East Division playoff scenarios:

Scenario 1

• Hamilton wins both their remaining games over the Ottawa.

• Toronto wins remaining game over Winnipeg.

Result: Hamilton (12 wins) finishes first in the division, get a first first round bye, host the East Final. Toronto (10 wins) finishes second and host the third place Ottawa (10 wins) as Toronto holds the tie-breaker over Ottawa (3-0 head-to-head record.)

Scenario 2

• Hamilton wins both their remaining games over the Ottawa.

• Toronto loses remaining game to Winnipeg.

Result: Hamilton (12 wins) finishes first in the division. Ottawa (10 wins) finishes second and hosts third place Toronto (9 wins).

Scenario 3

• Hamilton splits the two remaining games with Ottawa but has the better point differential in those contests.

Result: Hamilton (11 wins) finishes first in the division because of point differential advantage in the two games vs Ottawa. Ottawa (11 wins) finish second and host third place Toronto (10 or 9 wins).

Scenario 5

• Hamilton splits the two remaining games with Ottawa but has the worse point differential in those contests.

Result: Ottawa (11 wins) finishes first in the division because of point differential advantage in the two games vs. Hamilton. Hamilton (11 wins) finishes second and hosts third place Toronto (10 or 9 wins).

Scenario 6

• Hamilton loses the two remaining games with Ottawa.

• Toronto wins remaining game over Winnipeg.

Result: Ottawa (12 wins) finishes first in the division. Hamilton (10 wins) finishes second and hosts third place Toronto (10 wins) as Hamilton has the tie-breaker over Toronto (3-0 head-to-head record.)

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