Bakari Grant, like many Hamilton Tiger-Cat veterans, wasn’t waiting until the off-day to look ahead. While the Toronto Argonauts were still down the hall licking their season-long wounds, the Ticat receiver had the Redblacks on his mind.
“I’m already thinking about it, ” the Tiger-Cats’ receiver was saying of Sunday’s CFL Eastern Final date in Ottawa just an hour after his 42-yard touchdown reception helped ignite Hamilton’s comeback in Sunday’s eastern semifinal.
“We have to go in there and play mistake-free football and minimize the turnovers. We have to watch film and see what we have to correct and where we missed opportunities against Ottawa.”
The Tiger-Cats lost 12-6 to Ottawa in Hamilton and 44-28 in the capital the following week to close the season in second place. It will be the first conference final played hard by the Rideau since 1978.
Grant says that Jeremiah Masoli’s running in Sunday’s game abetted his third-quarter touchdown, on which Toronto defender Awkwasi Owusu-Ansah slipped just before the ball was thrown. But Grant appeared to have already beaten Owusu-Ansah, who had picked Masoli off earlier in the quarter in roughly the same place, on roughly the same throw.
“You’ll hear from any wide receiver who knows the game that any time you have a running threat it helps you because they can’t drop nine guys off, ” Grant said Sunday.
“He actually plays similar to the way Zach (Collaros) plays, makes some plays with his feet, gets outside the pocket and can make plays on the run.”
Grant expects to see mostly man-to-man coverage by the Redblacks, who are feeling 10 feet tall and bulletproof.
“They have confidence in their defensive backs, ” said Grant who caught a total of five passes in the two Ottawa games, for only 45 yards, just three more than he had on his one catch Sunday.
“They do have a very good front four, which helps their secondary. We have to make plays against man to man.”
First in five weeks
Grant’s major with just 2:48 to go in the third quarter was the first Ticat touchdown the hometown fans had seen since Oct. 9, when Terrell Sinkfield scored late in the third quarter against Saskatchewan. Jeff Mathews threw that ball.
Between Sinkfield and Grant, the Ticats went two hours and four minutes without scoring a touchdown at Tim Hortons Field.
Masoli put an exclamation point on the curtailing of that drought when he determinedly punched into the end zone from the one-yard line, three minutes into the fourth quarter.
“This is one of the games you need as a player, you want as a player, for how the game went, ” he said. “We were up, down, and up again, tied. An ugly win and you have to have ugly wins.”
Dile it up
There were plenty of unsung Ticats in Sunday’s game, especially with an early injury to Simoni Lawrence who eventually returned, and clearly more serious damage to star defensive end Eric Norwood who did not return.
Arnaud Gascon-Nadon did a good job in relief, as he has done several times before for the Cats.
Brandon Banks sometimes gets skewered for his decisions or, unfairly, simply because he didn’t take the ball to the house, had a couple of mega-important returns with a 46-yard kickoff return and a 42-yarder on a punt. And CJ Gable’s 89 hard rushing yards marked the second straight week he’d surpassed 80.
Both could make a difference in Ottawa Sunday.
And then there’s Marc Dile.
The quiet 29-year-old tackle from Orlando had been out of football and hadn’t taken a play since last August when the Cats decided Friday afternoon that he would have to start at right tackle because incumbent Jeremy Lewis wasn’t healthy enough.
Lewis might return for this weekend so Dile’s contribution could be a one-off, but it got the Ticats through, as the Hamilton offensive line really did the job in the second half. Hamilton rushed for 98 yards in the second half, 71 of those by Gable. Their 148 total rushing yards was their second-highest total of the season, and highest in 14 games.
After joining the Ticats in 2012, Dile made a handful of starts over the next three seasons but also suffered injuries. The Cats didn’t bring him back this year and he ended up in Winnipeg for training camp, but was hurt then released before the season started without playing in a game.
With tackle Jake Olson hurt, the Ticats brought Dile into town when CFL rosters expanded in early October. Since leaving Winnipeg, he had been working at a bottling plant in Florida.
“I took reps all week and there was a 70-30 chance I’d be playing, ”
Dile shrugged. “This goes back to me playing the game a long time, so I could step back in. But I’ve also been here a couple of months now.
“It’s a kids’ game, and as long as you go out there and do your fundamentals and have fun, you’ll be fine.”
We really can’t let the Argonauts go softly into the night without a word of praise for what they went through this season, and how well they handled it.
Coach Scott Milanovich, GM Jim Barker and outgoing CEO Chris Rudge had to deal with, first, the loss of Ricky Ray for most of the year, second, the Rogers Centre’s spectacular disregard for the CFL and, later, the Blue Jays’ playoff run which put them at Varsity Stadium, Fort MacMurray, Ottawa, and Hamilton (twice) for alleged “home” games.
Last season they went through a similar disarray of practice sites until they secured Downsview Park for good and by the last of the faux home dates this year (against Montreal at Tim Hortons Field), the nomadic existence had clearly worn them down.
It’s not automatic that BMO Field, their new home, will revive the Argos’ impact on Toronto’s sports scene, but it cannot hurt. And the Ticats are always better off with a stronger franchise just down the turnpike in Toronto.