The good and bad of Hamilton’s win over the Als

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Ticats used a dominating second half to defeat the Als 31-7 at Percival Molson Stadium on Friday night. Here are some thoughts.

Good: Adrian Tracy and the Four Linemen of the Sack-pocalypse

Through the first three weeks of the season, Adrian Tracy did not do much of anything. He was much hyped during the offseason, with the team making him a big part of their marketing push for 2016. It was curious to see a player who had, and this is not meant to be disrespectful, accomplished nothing in a short CFL career to be so prominent in the team’s promotional material. The staff clearly saw something in him and he was a popular breakout player for many heading into the season. Friday night, he finally showed everyone what the team saw.

There are dominant games and then there are games like Tracy had: 11 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass knockdown. Incredible. He was everywhere and spent the majority of the night abusing the man he was lined up against, 2015 first-round pick Jacob Ruby.

But Tracy was just one member of a defense that recorded eight sacks and harassed Montreal quarterbacks Rakeem Cato and Vernon Adams all game. Every member of the defensive line recorded at least one sack, with John Chick equalling Tracy’s two.

The Ticats also did not allow the Als into the red zone once, and the deepest penetration Montreal had all night was Hamilton’s 35-yard line. While Montreal’s tepid offense certainly takes credit for some of that, Hamilton’ ferocious defense more than played their part.

Good: All gas, no breaks… FINALLY

For weeks I have been saying that C.J. Gable needs more touches and we finally saw what Gable can do when given the ball more than nine times a game. Gable finished with a very Gable-like 98 total yards on 21 total touches. He ran the ball 17 times for 61 yards and caught four passes for 37 yards. He also found the end zone on a nine-yard run in the third quarter. Gable does not need 21 touches each week to be effective, but hopefully this is the start of Gable seeing the ball at least 12-15 times each week.

Good: Brandon Banks… Wow

What more can we possibly say about Brandon Banks that hasn’t already been said? The guy is a human-highlight reel and the most dangerous player with the ball in his hands in the CFL. A week after returning a missed field goal 120 yards for a score, Banks ripped this game open with a beautiful 86-yard punt return touchdown. We all know how special Brandon Banks is, but the numbers are truly incredible:

Nine return touchdowns in just 41 career games, an average of one every 4.5 games, is a mark unmatched in league history.

We should also pause to recognize how great Gizmo Williams was. As great as Brandon Banks is, I don’t think he’s going to catch Giz. Nobody probably will. Gizmo’s 32 career return touchdowns is one of the those marks that might never be broken, like Cal Ripkin’s iron man streak or Matt Dunigan’s single-game passing yards mark.

But yeah, Brandon Banks. My word, what a special player.

Good: Austin’s patience pays off

Let’s call a spade a spade: the Ticats were terrible in the first half. Against a better team, the game would have been over after the first 30 minutes. Montreal controlled the game through the first two quarters and actually found themselves trailing at halftime. It was so bad that TSN’s Matthew Scianitti asked Kent Austin at halftime if a quarterback change was coming. Austin said the second half would not start with one, but that it was being considered if the offense continued to struggle. While the offense was never dominant, they would score on five of their seven drives in the second half and Jeremiah Masoli would find a little bit of rhythm in the second. Austin’s patience in his quarterback paid off and the Ticats came out with a victory. Inserting Mathews may have provided a spark, but at what cost? Zach Collaros is inching closer an closer to a return, so a backup quarterback controversy is not something the team needs right now. Austin stuck with Masoli and I think that was the right call.

Bad: But Masoli still struggled

With the above said, Jeremiah Masoli struggled mightily against the Alouettes, especially in the first half. He didn’t set the world on fire in the second half, but he was better and he managed to do something that eluded him over the last few weeks: protect the football. After a first-half interception to Jovon Johnson, Masoli played turnover-free football the rest of the way. He wasn’t spectacular like his Week 1 coming out party against the Argos, but he was good enough in the final 30 minutes to secure the win.

Good: Brett Maher, the Road Warrior

Consistency was the name of the game with Justin Medlock. With Brett Maher, I’m not sure what we can call it. Maybe he needs to slap some face paint on, add some spikes to his shoulder pads and come onto the field to some Black Sabbath, because the former Ottawa Redblack is very much a road warrior. Maher has struggled at Tim Hortons Field, going 1-for-4 in his field goal attempts at home, but on the road, he is a perfect 9-for-9, including going 5-for-5 on Friday night in Montreal.

While many will point to the Speedy B return as the catalyst for the Hamilton turnaround, and rightly so, I would like to make an argument that it was Maher’s 56-yard field goal to end the half that began Hamilton’s run to a 31-7 victory. The Ticats had played terribly up to that point, and had no business being down 4-2, when Maher came out to attempt a 51-yard field goal. That attempt was moved back five yards due to an illegal procedure penalty by John Chick. It was all adding up to disaster, but Maher calmly booted the ball through the uprights to give the Ticats a 5-4 lead at halftime. After that, it was all Hamilton. Banks will get a lot of the press after his big return, but it was Maher’s kick with zeros on the clock in the second quarter that really got the ball moving in Hamilton’s direction.

Bad: Missed opportunities

Hamilton ended up winning this game handily, but they did themselves no favours by failing to capitalize on some golden opportunities. The first came early in the game when newcomer Travis Lee, playing just his second career game, made a beautiful break on the ball and picked off Rakeem Cato in the open field. It could have been a huge momentum swing… except fellow defensive back Quinton Pointer was flagged for offside.

Pointer also played a role in a second Ticats interception that never was when he ran into John Chick and caused him to drop the ball. Pointer came back and had a nice sack off a corner blitz, but it still bears pointing out that he had a couple unfortunate plays.

Against a better team, those missed opportunities would likely have bitten the Ticats in the butt. Luckily for them they were not playing a better team.

Bad: Losing Filer

Injuries suck. I know, breaking news. Injuries in garbage time of a game that is well in hand might be the worst of all. Hamilton looks to have suffered one of those as centre Mike Filer needed to be carried off the field late in the fourth quarter after he had his ankled rolled up on. Filer is as tough as they come — I mean, seriously, a man with a beard like that is truly one of the toughest people around — and for him to need help off the field speaks volumes. It sure looks like No. 51 is going to miss a lot of time and that just sucks. Speedy recovery, Mr. Filer. Hope you are back on the field sooner rather than later.

Final Thoughts

Last week, after that ugly loss to the Bombers, I openly worried that the team was staring down the barrel of a possible 1-6 start. So about that…

Like has been the norm this year around the league, the Ticats went on the road and secured a win. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but a win is a win. The Ticats now sit at 2-2 with two big road wins against fellow East Division teams and are three points back of the first-place Ottawa Redblacks.

The Ticats started their four game road swing in victorious fashion and will look to keep the wins coming when they head to Commonwealth Stadium to take on the Edmonton Eskimos next Saturday.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.