Ticats head to Edmonton in search of win, not Pokemon

Ticat long snapper Aaron Crawford, mildly addicted to the latest video game craze, found a Pokemon Go character sitting on teammate Mike Filer’s lap this week.

“He was on the trainer’s table and I don’t know if he coaxed it there… I don’t know the whole story – I can’t speak for the Pokemon,” Crawford said. “I just walked in and saw it. And I got it.”

Unfortunately for the Ticats, Filer’s ability to lure Pokemon to the Ticats’ facility – Crawford also captured one while sitting in the hot tub – will be the extent of his contribution to the team this week: the veteran centre has an ankle injury that will keep him out of Saturday’s game against Edmonton.

And that poses a problem.

If Eskimos defensive tackle Almondo Sewell was a Pokemon character he’d probably be the rare, lethal and slightly pudgy Snorlax. A CFL all-star last season, the 6-foot-4, 288-pounder is the type of player who requires game planning even with a full compliment of experienced linemen.

But with Filer down, the Ticats will go with second year man Mathieu Girard, making his first career CFL start. The centre position, with all its additional responsibilities, is a tough one under normal circumstances – never mind with Sewell to contend with. Pokemon balls are unlikely to be much use in slowing him down.

“You have to be conscious of it – he’s going to be a problem for anyone in the league,” said Ticat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. “The number one way thing we can do is get the ball out quickly and after that there are scheme things we can do.”

Masoli’s mobility, a tool the Ticats haven’t really utilized much this season, could also be of use. Otherwise, finding an offensive rhythm – already elusive – will be next to impossible.

Moving the football hasn’t been an issue for Edmonton, with quarterback Mike Reilly averaging more than 400 yards passing a game. Meanwhile, the Ticats defence is ranked No. 1 against the pass and use a relentless rush – they racked up eight sacks in last week’s win over Montreal – to get pressure on the quarterback.

Sometimes the predictable things are also true: Edmonton head coach Jason Maas, a former Ticat quarterback who also serves as the team’s offensive coordinator, says that Saturday’s game will likely be decided in trenches

“It’s an old cliché but that’s where the battles are won,” Maas. “When you feel like that’s one of your strengths and you go up against a team where they feel it’s one of their strengths, something has to give.”

Maas is in his first season as a head coach after stints in Toronto and Ottawa as an assistant. Defensive tackle Eddie Steele says the culture hasn’t changed much after the departure of Chris Jones to Saskatchewan following the team’s Grey Cup win last November.

“We have some young guys but we’re a veteran team so we know how to handle the task at hand,” Steele said. “He saw there was a presence here and he didn’t need to recreate the wheel, just mould it the way he wanted.”

The Eskimos have gussied up their game day presentation on Saturday, bringing in recording artist Flo Rida for a halftime performance and holding a… wait for it… Pokemon event before the game, encouraging fans to come early and chase augmented-reality characters around the stadium.

But don’t expect the Eskimo quarterback to be wandering around staring at his phone, however.

“I don’t catch footballs or Pokemon, I leave that to other people,” Reilly said, chuckling. “That’s not my style.”

Even Crawford plans to take a pass.

“They can keep their Pokemon,” he said. “The only thing I want from them is a win.”

Emanuel Davis, Courtney Stephen, Devon Bailey

Scouting report
Game 5
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-2) at Edmonton Eskimos (2-1)
Commonwealth Stadium
Saturday, July 23
Game time: 7 p.m. EST
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150

The storyline for Edmonton:  The Eskimos hired Jason Maas (a former Ticat) after former head coach Chris Jones and his entire staff departed for Saskatchewan following the team’s Grey Cup win last season. Maas has surrounded himself with a veteran staff – including ex-Hamilton coaches Mike Gibson and Casey Creehan – and players say the rookie head coach has tailored his style to fit an experienced club with plenty of veteran leadership.

Key injuries: Starting Canadian receiver Nate Coehoorn suffered a concussion on the third day of practice, meaning Natey Adjei – who has one career CFL start – gets the nod. Defensive back John Ojo is out for the season with a torn Achilles.

Five funky Edmonton stats:

  1. After falling behind 13-3 last week against Winnipeg, the Eskimos rallied for a 20-16 win, marking the fifth straight time the Eskimos have won after trailing by 10 or more points. That ties a CFL record.
  2. The Esks (and the Ticats) won on the road last week, the first time the visitors have swept all four games since August of 2014. Home teams have a winning percentage of just .219 thus far, the lowest mark in the league’s history
  3. The Eskimos have gone seven-for-seven on third down with two yards or less to go while teams across the league are converting at a 78.7 per cent rate, up 3.5 per cent from last season.
  4. Quarterback Mike Reilly has just two interceptions on the season and that follows a league-wide trend that had picks at an all-time low: there have been just 18 interceptions thus far, representing 1.5 per cent of all pass attempts. The lowest-ever mark was 2.8 per cent in 2014.
  5. This will be Reilly’s sixth start against the Ticats and his quarterback rating of 81.4 is his lowest against any CFL club.

The storyline for Hamilton: The Ticats will be looking for a better start offensively after managing just five points in the first 30 minutes in last week’s win over Montreal. The defence and special teams units, however, have been mostly excellent this season. The Ticats will be looking to head into their bye week on a high note, par of an odd stretch of schedule that will see them play just one game in 20 days.

Key injuries and roster changes: Centre Mike Filer is out with an ankle injury suffered late in last week’s win over Montreal so second-year man Mathieu Girard gets his first career start. Receiver Terrence Toliver, who has missed the last three games with an upper body injury, returns to the line up.

Five funky Hamilton stats:

  1. With their two road victories this season, the Ticats have now won six of their last eight games away from Tim Hortons Field.
  2. Last week against Montreal, Hamilton limited the Alouettes to just 239 yards of net offence while forcing 10 two-and-outs and five turnovers.
  3. These teams split the season series in 2015 with both road teams earning victories: Hamilton dismantled Edmonton 49-20 on Aug. 21, then lost 25-18 on Sept. 19 – the game in which quarterback Zach Collaros tore his ACL.
  4. Hamilton is now 5-7 since Collaros’ injury (including playoffs.)
  5. Hamilton and Edmonton have split each of the last four season series and neither side has swept since 2011 when the Eskimos took both games.

TSN play-by-play: Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor.

Referee: Kim Murphy

Weather: Mostly sunny 22 degrees, winds out of the west at 18 km/h.