Kealoha Pilares says Jeremiah Masoli is ready.
A receiver signed in September, Pilares and Masoli have stayed late after virtually every practice to get some extra work in. When they started, both were buried on the depth chart and sitting on the sidelines in street clothes during games. Still, they were out there every day, Pilares running routes, Masoli throwing pass after pass. Getting ready, just in case.
“For a fourth string guy to be put in the work he has… he’s been preparing himself for this moment,” Pilares said. “It’s an opportunity and he knows that.”
Masoli will start at quarterback for the Ticats in Sunday’s East Semi-Final against the Toronto Argonauts at Tim Hortons Field. The winner goes on to face the Ottawa Redblacks with a Grey Cup berth on the line. The loser cleans out their lockers on Monday.
Kent Austin says Jeremiah Masoli is ready.
Austin demoted Masoli from a No. 2 in 2013 all the way down to the practice roster this season, available to any team willing to put in a claim. But Austin kept Masoli around – most third-year players in his situation never get another opportunity – and is giving him the nod ahead of last week’s starter, Jacory Harris.
“There’s a lot of factors and a lot of it has to do with the game plan and our level confidence in executing it,” Austin said. “He’s the type of player we want on our football team.”
Bryan Hall says Jeremiah Masoli is ready.
The defensive tackle remembers Masoli from Oregon, when he led the Ducks to a 2009 Rose Bowl berth as a dual-threat quarterback. But it was Masoli’s reaction to his fall from grace this season that has really impressed Hall.
“He’s been the ultimate professional. He never held his head down, he’s always been helping guys – he never wavered,” Hall said. “I like his competitive nature. He’s not afraid to stretch the field, he trusts his arm. His confidence is something the whole offence can feed off of.”
There are other factors in this game beyond Masoli, of course. The Argonauts have never won a game at Tim Hortons Field (they are 0-5) and went winless against the Ticats this season (0-3.) They are starting a diminished Ricky Ray at quarterback and have injury troubles at both receiver and in the secondary.
The Ticats defence has been among the league’s best all season and the special teams units are a mix of creativity and explosiveness. Those things might be enough if the offence can avoid turnovers. And Hamilton has been to the Grey Cup in back-to-back years and are a team filled with playoff-tested veterans.
Defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer – part of a remarkably cohesive coaching staff – will address his unit before the game to impress upon them the importance of the moment.
“Every year, it’s a little bit different but fortunately for us, there’s a nice core of guys that are the same,” he said. “As a leader, part of your job is to motivate. I don’t have anything prepared, I just do it from the heart.”
Jeremiah Masoli says Jeremiah Masoli is ready.
Whatever irony he sees in the situation – a former practice roster guy being asked to win the biggest game of the year – he keeps to himself. He dodges questions about proving himself (he’s a free agent after the season.) He allows that time and experience have matured him by chooses to to dwell on those lessons.
“I’m excited and appreciative of the opportunity,” Masoli said. “I know they’ll come out swinging and it will be the same here.”
It’s the playoffs. Ready or not.