Another crazy Ticat comeback falls just short

The comeback kids almost did it again. Almost.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats erased a 20-point halftime deficit against the B.C. Lions on Saturday night but ultimately fell 45-38. Ticat quarterback Zach Collaros was superb is his return, throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns and Brandon Banks had a 126-yard missed field goal return to tie it late.

But the Ticats started the game like they’ve started most of their games this season: terribly. Ten days after giving up 34 points in he first half in a loss to Winnipeg, Hamilton surrendered 32 in the opening half against the Lions. Collaros fumbled on the second play from scrimmage after taking a wicked shot off a blindside blitz and B.C. quarterback Jonathon Jennings threw a 38-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.

Both plays looked ripe for a challenge flag, with the hit on Collaros up around the head and B.C. receiver Bryan Burnham appearing to push off against Ticats’ defensive back Emanuel Davis before making the reception. But Hamilton head coach Kent Austin kept the challenge flag in his pocket and the Lions led 8-0 after the two-point conversion.

But instead of an instantaneous collapse, the Ticats responded. Collaros made a couple of nice throws to put Hamilton into field goal range and Brett Maher connected from 27 yards out to get Hamilton on the board, then nailed a 54 yarder to make it 8-6.

After a 78-yard punt led to a Lions rouge, the B.C. special teams set up the next score as well, Chris Rainey returning the ball deep into Ticat territory (only a dubious illegal block call prevented a score,) But five plays later, Jeremiah Johnson took it in from six yards out and extended their lead 16-6.

Another Ticats special teams penalty – there have a been a lot of them lately – backed up Hamilton and helped force a safety. The Lions then scored on the ensuing possession when Emanuel Arcenaux beat two Hamilton defenders for a touchdown.

Again Collaros and the offence responded, putting together a nice drive that featured a 36-yard screen pass to C.J. Gable as its centrepiece. Jeremiah Masoli punched it in from two yards out and after a failed two-point try, Hamilton trailed 25-12.

But the defence couldn’t get a stop. Jennings shredded the Ticat secondary with a 13-play, 84 yard drive, capped with another Johnson touchdown plunge. Hamilton gave up 207 passing yards in the first half, surrendered five sacks and trailed 32-12.

Hamilton got the first big play of the second half when Emanuel Davis intercepted Jennings and returned it 74 yards before tripping over his own feet at the B.C. three yard line. But two plays later Collaros connected with Luke Tasker to cut the Lion lead to 13.

After a B.C. two-and-out, Maher kicked a 42-yard field goal and the momentum shifted, ever so slightly Hamilton’s way. But after another Lion two-and-out, the Ticats took another special teams penalty to negate a long return, were called for procedure penalty and then had to concede another safety.

Then on the first play of the first play of the fourth quarter, Collaros was intercepted by linebacker Adam Bighill – on his bobblehead giveaway night – and the Lions tacked on three more.

But the Ticats weren’t done yet. After inexplicably losing a coach’s challenge on what looked like a clear pass interference call, Collaros threaded the needle on a touchdown strike to Terrence Toliver, then hit Andy Fantuz for the two-point conversion. With eight-and-a-half play, Hamilton trailed by just eight.

B.C. punter Richie Leone, who was bombing punts all night, pinned the Ticats deep and after a two-and-out – Spencer Watt had a key drop here – Maher shanked his punt and the Lions were set up in Hamilton territory.

But Leone missed a 37-yard field goal try and Brandon Banks returned it 126 yards for the touchdown. Collaros hit Tasker for the two-point conversion and the game was tied at 38.

Jennings, who finished with 306 yards on 20 for 32 passing and three touchdown passes, wasn’t done. He orchestrated yet another log drive, running six plays and connecting with Arcenaux for the second time for a 30-yard score. Collaros moved the ball to the B.C. 36 as time wound down but his third-down pass fell incomplete. Ball game.

With the loss, the Ticats fall to 3-4 on the season but are now finished with a tough stretch of schedule that saw them play four straight away from Tim Hortons Field. They’ll finally return next Saturday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Notes: The Lions invited 175 Syrian refugees who have been settled in Vancouver to present the Canadian flag during the anthem before the game… the Ticat scratches were receiver Junior Collins and defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh… former McMaster Marauder Jason Arakgi registered three special teams tackles and is now tied for the all-time CFL lead with 184… attendance was 21,213.

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