So the Semi it is.
Ottawa quarterback – and former Ticat – Henry Burris – threw six touchdown passes and set a CFL single season record for completions as Redblacks beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 44-28 on Saturday.
The win means the Redblacks, now 12-6, clinch the East Division and earn a first-round bye. The Ticats finish the season 10-8 and will host the semi-final against the Toronto Argonauts next Sunday at Tim Hortons Field. Hamilton finishes the year by losing three straight and five of seven since starting quarterback Zach Collaros was injured.
With Jeff Mathews also out due to injury, Jacory Harris got the start behind centre for Hamilton but Jeremiah Masoli took over early in the second quarter and went the rest of the way. He provided a much-needed spark – he finished with 148 yards on 11 of 21 passing and a touchdown but he also committed two of the Ticats three turnovers on the night, including a key fourth quarter fumble.
“We lost two receivers early so we needed to have some other options with Jeremiah’s ability to run the football, try and manufacturer some offence,” said Hamilton head coach Kent Austin. “I thought considering the guy hasn’t played very much, he did really well.”
The first quarter was an unmitigated disaster for the Ticats. They gave up 17 points while generating just 13 yards of total offence. A fumble by return man Brandon Banks led to one of two Ottawa touchdowns.
“We got in a hole big early then we battled back and got back into the game but they did a great job converting off our turnovers,” Austin said.
The second half, however, was infinitely – and improbably – better. After a Justin Medlock got the Ticats on the board with a field, Eric Norwood intercepted Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris and returned the ball to the Redblacks’ one yard-line. Masoli punched it in from there.
The Ticats look set to extend their lead with Tiquan Underwood hauled in a long pass from Masoli and stepped out-of-bounds at the Ottawa five, but the play was called back for offensive pass interference. Replays showed little contact and, after losing a touchdown to officiating mistakes last week, the Ticats were on the wrong side of call yet again.
“When the league gets to the point when they’ve had enough and it hits critical mass with the owners and the others in the league and the league has courage to implement things to make the game better and to help our guys on the football field, then they’ll make change,” Austin said. “Otherwise they are going to kept putting up with it. It’s not good for the game.”
But Hamilton then scored 10 points in the final 69 seconds of the half off another Medlock field goal and an Andy Fantuz touchdown catch set up by a long punt return from Terrell Sinkfield. It gave the visitors 20-17 lead heading into the break.
Ottawa responded by ripping off 14 straight points to start the third quarter courtesy of two Henry Burris touchdown passes, the second set up by Masoli fumble, and took a 31-20 lead
With the game slipping away, the Ticats pulled off an onside punt, Rico Murray lining up behind Medlock as he kicked it, then scooping up the loose ball as it bounced on the turf. Murray sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown and the Cats were back within six after a failed two-point convert.
The teams then traded turnovers on back-to-back plays. Simoni Lawrence scooped a fumble and returned it to the Ottawa 19 yard line but Masoli was stripped and Redblacks recovered. Nine plays later, Burris threw his fifth touchdown of the game.
But the Redblacks missed the convert and Banks, back from injury, returned all the way back the other way, giving Hamilton two points. Early in the fourth, Hamilton trailed by nine.
Not for long. Burris ran a flea flicker from their own ten yard line, then finished his 100 yard march with a 32 yard strike to yet another former Ticat in Chris Williams for the touchdown. That made it 44-28 and punched Ottawa’s ticket to the East Final.
Burris finished with 368 yards on 28 of 37 passing and three of his six touchdowns were caught by former Ticat Greg Ellingson, who also became the fourth Ottawa receiver to go over 1,000 yards on the season. Burris’ 481 completion sets on a new CFL single season record and makes him the odds-on favourite to be the league’s Most Outstanding Player.
Meanwhile, Austin declined to name a starting quarterback for next Sunday’s win-or-go-home tilt.
“I need to talk to the staff about it. Some of it is going to do depend on the game plan,” Austin. “We’ll probably get two guys ready.”