The chaos surrounding the Hamilton Tiger-Cats since head coach Kent Austin took over in 2013 is well documented: home-away-from-home, stadium delays, bus trips to practice, injuries to a number of significant players. Now, on the eve of the most important game of this season, Austin faces yet another challenge: the prospect of starting his No. 3 quarterback.
“Par for the course,” Austin joked, in an increasingly rare moment of levity. “It’s no big deal.”
Starting quarterback Jeff Mathews has a concussion and will miss Saturday’s game in Ottawa that will decide the East. The Ticats enter next Saturday’s game needing to beat the Redblacks by six points or more to finish first in the division and earn a first round playoff bye. A loss or a win by five or less and Hamilton will finish second and host the semi-final Nov. 15.
So the road to a third straight Grey Cup has two, very different forks: it’s either a much-needed week off and a home playoff date or no rest and the prospect of having to win two games, including one in Ottawa – where the Redblacks are 6-2 this season.
Mathews was injured late in last Saturday’s 12-6 loss to Ottawa when he was hit in the head by Redblacks linebacker David Hinds, who was flagged 15 yards for roughing the passer. Mathews left the game and the hit more or less got lost in the kerfuffle over the Simoni Lawrence shot on Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris.
“There was no comment on that one,” Austin said, pointedly. “We’ll leave that with the league, who do a good job in policing it.”
With Mathews out, the starting job will fall to either sophomore Jacory Harris or third-year man Jeremiah Masoli, who has the only CFL start between them. Austin declined to name a starter but emphasized that both guys have plenty experience in the offence. The team also signed former Argonaut Mitchell Gale, a good friend of Collaros’, to serve as the new No. 3.
No matter who starts, they’ll be asked to win the most important game of the season with precious little preparation or playing time. While Mathews has certainly had his ups and downs in his five starts this season – he’s 2-3 with six touchdown passes against eight interceptions – he’s also taken virtually every first team rep in practice since Zach Collaros got hurt on Sept. 19.
How tall a task is it? CFL quarterbacks who started the season third or lower on the depth chart are 8-15 as starters, with Montreal’s Rakeem Cato and B.C.’s Jonathan Jennings accounting for seven of those victories. Ticat quarterbacks making their first career start – as Harris would be – are 2-10 since 1996..
The Ticats, of course, could care less about the odds. If Austin has done anything in his two-plus seasons in command, it’s to drill into his charges the sense they can overcome any obstacle, any distraction – no matter how significant.
“We always find a way to go through things the hard way and I feel like we always prevail,” Lawrence said. “When’s it’s time to be clutch, we’re clutch. Like Kobe. Young Kobe.”
At 37 years of age, Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles Lakers is shooting 31.3 per cent from the floor so far this season, by far the worst of his career. Some things, it would seem, are just too much to overcome.
Notes: Lawrence apologized to women and CFL officials for his post-game comments after the loss to Ottawa, for which he says he’s been fined $750 by the league. But he also managed to get in a subtle burn on Burris. “I wanted to apologize to all the females for comparing them to Henry Burris. That’s not fair to them at all,” Lawrence said… Gale, who spent nearly three seasons in Toronto Argonauts before being released on Sept. 2, 2015. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has thrown for 100 yards and two touchdowns with 91 rushing yards in 32 appearances.