Ticats look to write new history by starting a season strong

Peter Dyakowski was doing a radio interview this week when he was presented with an interesting fact he didn’t even know he knew.

“I’d never kept track — probably because I’ve forced it from my memory — but I’d never won a season-opener in my professional career,” said Dyakowski, who is now in his 10th season with the club. “So it was nice to get that out of the way without thinking about it.”

By beating the Toronto Argonauts 42-20 last Thursday, Dyakowski and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the opening game of a CFL campaign for the first time since 2004, a span that requires the removal of shoes and socks to calculate.

But even more impressive than a single digit in the win column — no matter how statistically interesting — was how the Ticats managed it.

Going into the game (and therefore the season) there were a number of open questions: Could quarterback Jeremiah Masoli perform in place of the still-recovering Zach Collaros? Would Brett Maher be a reasonable replacement for Justin Medlock? How would a secondary put together with duct tape and bailing wire hold up?

Yes, yes and just fine, thank you very much.

Dyakowski said there was considerably less doubt inside the Ticat locker-room regarding Masoli’s ability than the pundits and talking heads offered up outside, especially after his strong play in the 2015 post-season.

“One of the challenges we knew we’d be dealing with was winning without Zach,” Dyakowski said. “But we were able to find an answer to that late last season with Jeremiah, and we have the luxury of picking up where we left off. There’s some continuity.”

The question now becomes: Is what we saw from Masoli and company against the Argonauts the beginning of something beautiful, or an aberration?

This week’s test comes courtesy of the B.C. Lions, a team that also exceeded early expectations last Saturday by winning their home contest against perennial powerhouse the Calgary Stampeders.

It wasn’t pretty as the Lions gave up three blocked punts in the early going, but some late-game scoring from Chris Rainey — likely the most dangerous return man this side of Brandon Banks — helped seal the deal.

Quarterback Jonathon Jennings is far more mobile than the statuesque Ricky Ray, whom the Ticats pummelled for six sacks last week, and the Lions defensive unit is led by two perennial all-stars (linebackers Adam Bighill and Solomon Elimimian) and an explosive newcomer (defensive lineman Mic’hael Brooks.)

That said, the Lions are travelling cross-country and playing on a short-week, while Hamilton has the benefit of the extra day and their own beds (the Ticats have yet to require the services of an airplane this season and won’t next week, either.)

The Ticats have yet to lose a home-opener in the Kent Austin era, but haven’t exactly been world-beaters in the early going. The earliest they’ve won their second game of the season is July 26. They’ve often used the opening weeks to cycle through personnel and prepare themselves for the all-important stretch run.

But there, as Dyakowski points out, is a first time for everything. Even if you don’t know it yet.

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