It was a tale of two halves as the Ticats went down big in the first half only to make one of the most remarkable comebacks in CFL history to down the Edmonton Eskimos 37-31 at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night. Here are some thoughts.
Historical: Second half
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. In coming back from a 31-6 deficit, the Ticats set a record for largest comeback in team history and orchestrated the sixth largest in CFL history. And with 23 consecutive completions to open up the second half, Jeremiah Masoli broke Jason Maas’ single-game record of 22.
It is hard to put into words just what it felt like to watch that comeback unfold. Time and time again we have seen the Ticats on the opposite end of games like this (well, not quite like this). Just look back a few weeks ago when the team was knocking on the doorstep and was about to steal a win from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The breaks did not fall Hamilton’s way — the Tiquan Underwood drop, the fumble with under 30 seconds left while inside Winnipeg’s red zone — and they lost that game. Fast forward to Saturday night and it would have been easy for the team to mail it in after allowing Edmonton to march down the field and score on their first drive of the second half. But they didn’t. Masoli tosses a TD to Terrence Toliver. Then Jeff Mathews plunges in from one yard out. Then Masoli finds Andy Fantuz twice in the end zone and Chad Owens makes one of those classic Chad Owens catches and all of a sudden the Ticats are up. That is a testament to the men in the locker room and the coaching staff. It was an incredible win and it will be one we will be talking about for some time.
Great: Holy moly Jeremiah Masoli
What can you say about 23 straight completions that hasn’t already been said. It what may have been his final game as the Ticats starter, Masoli played the best game of his career. Simple as that. He had his ups and downs during his five games as Hamilton’s No. 1, but those ups were extremely high and we have now seen him have stretches where he completed 15 straight passes (against the Argos in Week 1) and now 23 straight. When this guy is on he is right up there with the very best this league has under centre. If this is indeed his swan song as Hamilton’s starter, he sure knew how to leave on a high note.
Good: Complete win
Here is another thing about the game, it was a complete team effort to make the comeback. The defense stepped up and put the clamps on an Edmonton offense that looked unstoppable through the first 34 minutes of the game. Special teams played their part with Brandon Banks having a big punt return to set up a Ticats touchdown and the coverage units, led by Frederic Plesius and Giovanni Aprile, keeping the speedy Kenzel Doe in check most of the night. And we know what the offense did. Everyone played a part in this comeback. Everyone. It was a total team effort to get this win.
Bad: First half
But it was not all sunshine and roses on Saturday. You don’t make the largest comeback in team history without going down by a significant margin early in the game, and for all the good the Ticats achieved in an amazing second half, they were equally as bad in the first half. They had what was looking like a typical Ticats first half: good opening drive, good final drive and a whole bunch of terrible in the middle. The Ticats drove deep enough to kick field goals on their first and last drives of the first half, but in between they managed just one first down and went two-and-out three times. It was not the worst half of football this team has played, that distinction belongs to their first half against the BC Lions on Canada Day or their first half last week against the Montreal Alouettes, but it wasn’t pretty. This team needs to learn to put together a full 60 minutes of football. They did it in Week 1 against the Argos, but have failed to do so in any of their subsequent games. The win will gloss over that fact, but it bears pointing out.
Good: The Big 3… Plus Toliver and Speedy B
I dubbed the Tasker-Fantuz-Owens trio the Big 3 and boy did they come up big last night. Quarterbacks don’t set completion records on their own, and major kudos must be given to the receiving corps for catching everything thrown their way. Tasker literally did, as he was targeted 11 times and caught 11 balls. Those 11 catches went for a game-high 146 yards.
Andy Fantuz looks like he did back in 2010 when he led the league in receiving and was named the CFL’s top Canadian. He had six catches for 80 yards, but it was his two touchdown catches that really highlight just how locked in Fantuz has been this season. On the first he made a great adjustment while the ball was in the air, and the second was a beautiful throw that went over his shoulder and landed right in his hands. Both were spectacular.
And speaking of spectacular, Chad Owens’ catch for a two-point covert was… Wow! Owens leapt in the air over Eskimos linebacker Kenny Ladler to snag the ball and give the Ticats a lead they would not relinquish.
But two other receivers also made plays, with Terrence Toliver pitching in with four catches for 37 yards and touchdown in his return from injury and Brandon Banks hauling in three passes for 64 yards. Every single receiver brought their A-game, especially in the second half, and deserve their own praise for the remarkable comeback and Masoli’s record-setting night.
Good: Round of applause for the offensive line
A lot was made about how the offensive line would handle Edmonton’s ferocious front four. The Ticats starting line had been hit or miss through the first four weeks, looking great at points an not so great at others. Add in that Mike Filer would be missing the game and the team was starting second-year man Mathieu Girard in his place, and many felt it could be a long day for offensive line. When all was said and done, the video will show that Jeremiah Masoli faced very little pressure and the stat sheet will show that the Ticats did not give up a single sack. A lot of people expected the worst and what they got was the exact opposite. Round of applause for the men up front.
Bad: Travis Lee’s first half
I feel bad for singling out any one player, but rookie Travis Lee had a tough first half. Mike Reilly picked on him constantly and a vast majority of Adarius Bowman’s 111 yards and Derel Walker’s 140 yards came against Lee. Now, both those players did pretty much nothing during the final 25 minutes, and for that the entire secondary should be commended, but it was a rough first half for the first-year man.
Good: Pressure busts Reilly’s pipes
Edmonton’s offensive line came as advertised in the first half, and coupled with Mike Reilly’s quick release, the Edmonton pivot stayed clean throughout the game’s first 30 minutes. But then something happened and the Ticats were in Mike Reilly’s face for almost the entire second half and it all came to a head when John Chick came clean and rocked Reilly with a hit I felt sitting in my basement. After the hit, Reilly went to the sideline and tore into his offensive line. Unfortunately for the Edmonton signal caller, it was all for naught. Hamilton continued to rough Reilly up and it was fitting that it would be a strip sack that essentially ended Edmonton’s hopes.
Bad: Get Well, Johnny Sears, Jr.
Another week, another Ticats injury. This time, it is Johnny Sears, Jr. that we are wishing a speedy recovery to. Sears was injured and taken to an Edmonton hospital, so things do not look good. Here is hoping he can get back on the field soon.
Greatest regular season win in Ticats history? Probably. There have been more important ones, like ones that clinch home-field advantage or secure a playoff spot, but I am hard pressed to name another game that comes close to this win against the Eskimos.
It was another road win for the team as well, and they are now 3-2 on the season with all three victories coming way from Tim Hortons Field. If this team can ever recapture that home dominance they had from Labour Day 2014 until Labour Day 2015, they will be unstoppable.
The Ticats now head into their bye on a two-game winning streak and are about to get their all-star quarterback back. That could spell major trouble for the rest of the CFL.
If you had told Ticats fans that the team would be 3-2 heading into the bye with Zach Collaros about to return, they would have taken it in a heartbeat. Things could have gone better over these first five games, but 3-2 and one point out of first in the East Division is not a bad place to sit in.