What ‘The Comeback’ tells us about the Ticats

In the breathless aftermath of fresh history, it’s often difficult to explain the reasons why.

So it’s hardly surprising that Hamilton Tiger-Cats coaches and players struggled to pinpoint just how, exactly, they found a way to storm back from a 25-point third quarter deficit on their way to a highly-improbably 37-31 win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday.

 It was the greatest Hamilton comeback ever and tied for sixth largest in the history of the CFL. And it happened on the road.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” said head coach Kent Austin. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

Shocking as it was, the players inside the jubilant Ticat locker room didn’t seem all that surprised by what they’d done. It takes a certain kind of self-confidence and a well-established culture of success to stay the course in the face of not just defeat, but humiliation. Either it’s in a team’s DNA or it isn’t.

“It’s just fun. When everybody actually believes what you talk about during the week or what you talk about at halftime and then you go execute,” said linebacker Simoni Lawrence. “Everybody is going to be surprised but us because we know what kind of team we have.”

Still, it was a remarkable turn of events – especially after a first half that saw the vaunted Ticats defence get eviscerated by Mike Reilly and the Edmonton receiving corps. They marched up and down the field with impunity as Hamilton struggled to generate pressure, cover receivers and, most notably, tackle anybody.

Another Eskimos touchdown on the first drive of the second half was the moment when the Ticats, facing a long late night flight and heading into the bye week, could have easily folded up the tent and gone home. Instead, the Hamilton defence shut the door the rest of the way and the offence went to work.

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli set a CFL record with 23 consecutive completions and threw three touchdown passes as the Ticats stormed back. Receiver Luke Tasker had 11 catches for 146 yards while Andy Fantuz had two touchdown catches and Chad Owens chipped in with a spectacular, gif-worthy catch on a two-point conversion.

Masoli shrugged when asked to explain his performance.

“You just lock in on every play. It has nothing to do with me individually, it’s all about our offence,” he said. “Guys were getting open, the line was blocking and all I had to do was throw it.”

The Ticats weren’t aware of Masoli’s record until after the game. It was previously held by Jason Maas, now head coach of the Eskimos, who got to see it broken in the most excruciating way possible. But they knew something special was happening.

“There was one route in particular in the fourth quarter when you could tell Masoli was on fire: I was running a seam and I looked up a little early because I felt open and the ball hit me in the chest,” Tasker said. “That he knew that – and realized that I would know it too – he was really rolling at that point.”

The Ticats now head into their first bye week of the season with a 3-2 record, just a point behind Ottawa for first place in the East – all without starting quarterback Zach Collaros. There are still issues to be dealt with – the secondary looked shaky for much of the night and linebacker Johnny Sears suffered what looked like a long-term injury – but Hamilton is well positioned as they pass the season’s quarter pole.

Each season, there are definitive moments that provide a glimpse at what a team is and, more importantly, can be. Saturday’s epic comeback is both a product of what’s been established by Austin, Lawrence, Tasker, Masoli and others but also an indication of the possibilities. There can no doubting this team’s heart and resilience.

“When we were way behind, I wasn’t even frustrated and there wasn’t a sense of desperation. I don’t know why,” Tasker said. “We just started making plays and sometimes that’s all it takes.”

The rest, as they say, is history.