In a game with so much ugliness, there was a single moment of unadulterated beauty and it came courtesy of Brandon Banks.
Banks came into week three of the CFL season ranked seventh in punt returns with a paltry 8.4 yard average. Opposing teams had taken away Bank’s favourite piece of real estate to the wide side of the field, essentially conducting the special teams version of the pincer movement.
But early in the third quarter of Friday’s game in Montreal, the Alouettes tried the same thing, flaring players out wide to take away the outside. Banks went up the middle, made one cut, and was gone.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) July 16, 2016
“He’s that guy. He can change the game,” said head coach Kent Austin. “He’s a courageous guy.
It was the turning point in a 31-7 victory and one of the few elements of a game that was, at times, a struggle to watch.
Quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli and Rakeem Cato were largely ineffective, particularly in a mind-numbing first half that saw Masoli post just 64 yards passing. The Alouettes turned the ball over five times – they were lucky it wasn’t significantly higher – and the teams combined to commit more than two-dozen penalties.
Hamilton did, somewhat implausibly, emerge with a 5-4 halftime lead. The Alouettes took a safety after Montreal tried to challenge a play that wasn’t reviewable – the interminable delay was the same – and Brett Maher banged through a 56 yard field goal a few plays later as the clock hit zero (though not before taking a delay of game penalty to make it exponentially harder.)
“They came in with a completely different defence and we had to make the adjustments at halftime,” Austin said. “They didn’t take a single snap in the defence that we were prepared for.”
But Banks’ moment of brilliance sparked the Ticats and shattered what was left of Montreal’s tenuous psyche, vulnerable as it was after having lost their starting quarterback, two top receivers and leading running back coming in. They took a succession of stupid penalties as Hamilton turned a narrow margin into a 15-point lead by early in the fourth quarter.
For the third straight week, head coach Kent Austin stuck with Masoli despite his struggles and was finally rewarded for his patience. Masoli wasn’t spectacular in the second half but he was effective enough to orchestrate a victory and he did manage– and this is important – to protect the football.
There were other bright spots, including a Hamilton defence that made minced meat of Cato and the inept Montreal offence. Defensive end Adrian Tracy was a significant factor, running back C.J. Gable looked like his old self and receiver Tiquan Underwood, who dropped a potentially game-winning touchdown last week, had a long fourth quarter reception that felt like a measure of redemption.
“That’s kind of the brand of football we play, a full game: special teams, defence and offence,” Austin said. “We got back to who we are.”
The win improves the Ticats to 2-2 while giving them a key road win over a division rival – their second straight in Montreal after 13 years of futility. The travel to Edmonton next week before heading on a bye, then conclude their four-game road odyssey with contests in Winnipeg and B.C.
Which is to say that things aren’t likely to get any easier – particularly if the Ticats are inclined to make it tough on themselves by starting slow.
Luckily, they have the fastest guy on the field.