At worst, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will emerge from Sunday’s clash against the Calgary Stampeders, exactly where they are now: tied for first in the East. At best, they’ll be alone on top of the division having made a declarative statement about their position in the Canadian Football League pecking order.
At the moment, the Stamps are considered to be the top team in the CFL by most deep thinkers with the league’s best record (6-1-1). They are tops in points for, points against, No. 2 in turnover ratio and are the second-least penalized team in the league. They have one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Bo Levi Mitchell and their kicker (Rene Paredes) has hit 23 straight field goals.
Head coach Kent Austin says nice things about the opposition every week, but he really, really means it when discussing Calgary.
“They don’t make many mistakes and you have to play really well to beat them, ” he said. “They score points, they’re good on defence, they are really good on teams. They’re a complete football team so we have a really good challenge ahead of us.”
Meanwhile, the Ticats have played some pretty good football themselves lately. In their last six quarters, they’ve outscored opponents 78-20 and returned to the complimentary football that made them so dangerous through much of the last three seasons: the defence gets stops and turnovers, the offence takes advantage and return man Brandon Banks gives them dynamic special teams.
The Ticats dropped 53 points on the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week and while a win’s a win, crushing a 1-7 team isn’t necessarily the best measuring stick. The Stampeders, however, are a different story.
“I love games like this. This team is clearly the best team in the league and we get an opportunity to go up against them, ” said linebacker Simoni Lawrence.
“That’s what you want as a football player. I know we’ll rise to the challenge.”
Lawrence will also be facing off against a couple of former teammates in linebacker Taylor Reed and receiver Bakari Grant, both of whom signed with the Stampeders in the off-season. Lawrence spent time with Grant in California during the off-season and routinely plays Call of Duty online with Reed.
“They’ll try to knock my head off if they get the chance, but that’s nothing new. I love them guys, but they understand how I’m built, ” Lawrence said. “I trained with Bakari all off-season and we’ve been talking crap since January.”
In addition to the personal history, there’s some collective history between these two teams as well. Hamilton hasn’t won in Calgary since 2004 and the Stampeders have won nine straight against the Ticats and the Stamps are the only CFL team Kent Austin hasn’t beaten as head coach of the Tiger-Cats.
There have been some heartbreakers in there, too. Both of Hamilton losses last season came on last-second Paredes’s field goals and there is still the sting of the 2014 Grey Cup …
“I’ve never beaten Calgary my whole career and it bothers me, to be honest, ” said six-year veteran offensive lineman Brian Simmons. “It’s just time.”
NOTES: Receivers Andy Fantuz, Luke Tasker and Chad Owens practised Friday and Austin said all three are expected to play Sunday … The Ticats have released receiver Tiquan Underwood, who appeared in 17 games over the past two seasons, including three this year. But with the recent play of Terrence Toliver and the signing of former National Football Leaguer Tommy Streeter this week and cap considerations, Underwood was the odd man out. “It’s nothing that he’s done, but we’re in a numbers business here and we’re trying to make the team better, ” Austin said … Former Ticats defensive back Quinton Pointer, released by the team on Thursday, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts.