In the pantheon of heartbreaking Ticats losses, this one might not rank first, but it will surely rank high.
With just 94 seconds left, the Ticats tied the game at 28 on a beautiful catch by Mr. Dependable, Luke Tasker and it looked like they had seized every ounce of momentum. They just needed a stop or a turnover to make the win official. With the way they were playing offensively, there was no doubt they would find a way to pull it out.
Then, in just two plays, it all went away. On 1st-and-10, Burris nearly made the critical mistake when an errant pass hit Ticats defensive lineman Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, starting his first career game in place of the injured Eric Norwood, right in the hands. An interception there, and the Ticats could have run the clock down to almost nothing and kicked the winning field goal. But instead, the ball hits the turf and sets up second down.
However, on that same play Ottawa offensive lineman J’Michael Deane gets called for a chop block on Hamilton’s Ted Laurent — side note: I wonder if Henry Burris will publicly call out Deane for his low hit since, as Burris has made perfectly clear, going low is worse than taking steroids and players who go low have no place in the game — and set the Redblacks back to 2nd-and-25. All the Ticats needed was a stop and they would have a chance to repeat what they did to the Argos a week ago.
Burris bobbles the snap, but the Ticats opted against bringing pressure, so he had a chance to recover. Then he heaves it up to Greg Ellingson who hauls it in when Ed Gainey, who saw more time at field corner over Courtney Stephen with Gascon-Nadon starting, inexplicably falls down while covering Ellingson. Ellingson breaks the tackle of Emanuel Davis and runs 93 yards for the go-ahead score. The Ticats would turn the ball over on downs on their final drive and it was game over.
Heartbreaking. In a season filled with setbacks, the Ticats still found a way to nearly pull it off. That might be the toughest pill to swallow. They didn’t lose because they were outmatched or outmanned or out anything. They pretty much just ran out of time. It wasn’t a Cinderella season, Cinderella is never the overwhelming favourite like the Ticats were in the summer, but when the chips were down, this team pulled together and came within a few mistakes, critical mistakes, of doing what many thought was impossible.
But not everything is negative, as there were a number of good things to take away from the sobering, season-ending loss.
In his second quarterbacking duel with a future Hall of Famer, Ticats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli more than held his own. In fact, he was arguably the best player on either team yesterday, finishing the game going 30 for 42 for 349 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, while adding another 44 yards on the ground and scoring once on a goal-line plunge. The Ticats implemented a run-heavy offense early, even breaking out the seldom-used option with Masoli and C.J. Gable, to much success. But when Masoli had to throw, he did so efficiently and effectively. His one interception did not cost the Ticats anything but field position, as the defense forced the Redblacks to go two-and-out on the ensuing series. It was a wonderful performance by Masoli that will more than likely be lost amidst the soul-crushing defeat. But take nothing away from No. 8. He did everything the team needed him to do and then some.
Masoli relied heavily on two players that needed to be involved heavily, Luke Tasker and Andy Fantuz. A week after those two combined for just three catches, they both had great games, with Fantuz catching seven passes for 88 yards and Tasker hauling in eight for 90 and one touchdown. Tasker makes the extraordinary seem routine, and he did so again on his brilliant fourth quarter score. Both guys stepped up in the team’s biggest game. Hard to ask for much more from either of them.
Ted Laurent, man, what more can be said. The guy notched another two sacks and was a force the entire game. The Ticats didn’t get as much pressure up front as they did against the Argos, but Ottawa’s offensive line is much better than Toronto’s, so to see Laurent dominate once again was even more impressive yesterday than it was a week ago. The big man is about to become a free agent and after two great seasons with the Ticats, and another wonderful playoff run, he has earned himself one massive contract. Don’t be surprised if No. 97 becomes one of the league’s highest-paid non-quarterbacks in February.
Aside from an inability to cover Greg Ellingson, the secondary was also fairly good most of the game. The Ottawa receivers helped out by dropping a few easy catches, but the coverage was there most of the game. After Ellingson’s amazing 186-yard performance, the next highest total was Ernest Jackson’s 52 yards on six catches. Oh, and Mo Price, who famously shot his mouth off guaranteeing a victory, was shut out. No catches for no yards. The Redblacks may have won, fulfilling Price’s guarantee, but he literally played zero part in it. Good thing the rest of his team isn’t as invisible as he is or else the Redblacks would not be heading to Winnipeg.
Sunday was not a good day for Justin Medlock, though. A week after becoming everyone’s favourite Ticat, the former UCLA Bruin was just not on his game. He missed what, for him, is a chip shot, 43-yard field goal and his punting was just not up to par. Medlock has never been the greatest punter, but he was at his worst today when the team needed him to be at his best.
The Ticats and their fans will look back on this one as the one that got away. There were plenty of times where the Ticats could have won this game, but simply did not. So Hamilton’s two-year reign atop the East Division comes to an end, as does Kent Austin’s three-season streak of Grey Cup appearances. It is a bitter end to a season that was so filled with promise back in the summer. A post-mortem of the team’s season, and how different this team could look come 2016, is coming. But now, in the immediate aftermath of yet another soul-crushing playoff defeat, is just not the time.
The Ticats just did not do enough to win a game that was there for the taking. With a fourth-string quarterback and a roster decimated by injury, the Ticats fell short.
Sadly, for fans of the Tiger-Cats, dealing with falling short is an all-too-familiar occurrence.