The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have fallen to second place in the East Division, the head coach is upset, their all-star linebacker is under fire for a dirty hit and the team is on the brink of a quarterback controversy.
The Ottawa Redblacks beat the Ticats 12-6 on Sunday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field in a game filled with emotion both on and off the field. The two teams will face off next Saturday in Ottawa to determine who finishes first in the East and earns a first round bye: Hamilton needs to win by six or more to take it.
After not practicing all week with a knee injury, Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris started against Hamilton and played well, throwing for 187 yards on 17 for 34 passing, with no touchdowns and a single interception. But it was a first quarter hit by Ticat linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who went low as the quarterback scrambled from the pocket, that sparked the verbal fireworks.
Burris went off in a TSN interview at halftime and again after the game, saying there’s “no place for people like that in this game.” Lawrence responded on a tirade of his own in Hamilton locker room after being informed of Burris’ comments, lacing into CFL officiating, the TSN panel and his former teammate.
“He’s 40 years old acting like a ho,” Lawrence said.
Hamilton quarterback Jeff Mathews committed three costly turnovers, including two interceptions in the red zone. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 160 yards while also taking six sacks and missing two open touchdown passes. Hamilton head coach Kent Austin said he may consider starting back up Jacory Harris in the re-match.
“It’s possible. We will make this decision this week,” Austin said.
Austin also took exception to questions about his decision to go for it on third down deep in his own territory late in the fourth, trailing by six. A turnover on downs would have given the Redblacks an easy field goal – and perhaps more – in a situation where every point matters in the fight for first place.
The Ticats converted both times, once on a roughing the passer call that knocked Mathews from the last minute of the game.
“Did it hurt us, yes or no? Next question,” a testy Austin said. “Get your stupid questions [out] and ask me something that’s more pertinent.”
The Ticats fell behind 9-0 in the opening quarter going into a fierce 45 km/h wind and were lucky it wasn’t worse. They turned the ball over (a Mathews fumble), committed two penalties that kept a Redblacks scoring drive alive and allowed Ottawa to control the ball for more than 11 minutes.
The Hamilton offence was better in the second and Justin Medlock hit a 45-yard field goal to get the Ticats on the board. Mathews put together a 11-play drive that stalled deep in Ottawa territory and Medlock hit from 18 to cut the lead to three.
The Ticats had another golden scoring opportunity just before the half when Medlock’s punt rolled out at the one-yard line. But the defence couldn’t get a stop and the Ottawa offence ran out the clock with 9-6 lead.
The Ticats had the wind at the backs to start the third and put together 11 play, 71 yard drive to the Ottawa 10 yard line – it took more than five minutes – only to have Mathews throw and interception in the end zone.
Otherwise, the Hamilton offence was hapless, going two-and-out on their other four possessions in the quarter and entering the the final frame down three. Mathews finally got things moving into the wind, driving inside the 10 yard only to throw his second red zone interception of the day and the Ticats walked away with no points.
The Redblacks gave it right back, however, with Brandon Stewart intercepting Burris and returning it for a touchdown – only to have it called back after the Ticats committed two penalties on the return. They were forced to punt.
Ottawa converted on second-and-20 with a draw play with just over two minutes to play, then fired a punt that went out at the Ticats one-yard line. Hamilton went for it twice on third down but could only advance to the Ottawa to the 25 before time ran out.
“We were down in scoring territory a couple of times and we had open receivers. We have to make plays,” Austin said. “We had opportunities to make plays in other areas of the game on both sides of the ball and on special teams.”
With the loss, the Ticats fall to 10-7 while the Redblacks improve to 11-6. Hamilton is guaranteed a home playoff date and can still win the East with a victory by six or more points, as they hold the tie-breaker with Ottawa should they finish tied in point differential.
“We have to win by seven next week, that’s the reality,” Austin said.
That’s actually wrong. But it’s hardly the only thing.
Notes: Redblacks punter Ronnie Pfeffer was injured in the first quarter when he was rolled up on by Hamilton’s Neil King, who apologized to Pfeffer after the game… Ticat scratches were defensive back Rico Murray and defensive tackle Drake Nevis… attendance was announced at 24,340.