Another trip to Calgary, another tough loss for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This time, the team fell 30-24 and ran their streak of futility in Calgary 12 years and their overall losing streak to Calgary to 10 games.
Terrible: Flags, flags, everyone a flag
The story of this game is flags. The Ticats were an undisciplined mess for most of the game. They committed 14 penalties for 125 yards, with a vast majority of them coming in the first half. It seemed that every time the Ticats had a chance to make a play, they buggered it up by committing a penalty. Special teams penalties have been a problem all year and their reared their ugly head again in this one. The first three returns the Ticats had all featured penalties and late in the game Brandon Banks had a 50-yard punt return wiped off the board because D.J. Hunter lined up offside. Because he lined up offside! That’s simply being sloppy and it is a great way for a player to find himself on the next flight home. The Calgary Stampeders are too good of a football team to give them breaks like that. Hamilton is not good enough at this point to overcome that many self-inflicted wounds and beat the best team in the CFL.
Good: In it until the end
All the above said, the fact that the Ticats kept this game close shows that they are not far away from being the team we know they can be. Calgary his the best team in the league, bar none, but the Ticats made a plethora of mistakes against a now 7-1-1 team and lost by just four. Moral victories may just be for minor league coaches (shout out to Jay-Z) and no one on the Ticats will be happy with this outcome, but they took Calgary’s best shot, shot themselves a bunch of times, and still nearly came away with the win.
Good: 4 plus 80 equals 6
So Zach Collaros is a pretty good quarterback, eh? He was again superlative in this one, throwing for 439 yards and three touchdowns. That now puts him at 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns (with just one interception) in three games this year. For comparison purposes, Mike Reilly is first in touchdown passes with 16 and he has played nine games this year. Collaros’ numbers over a full season would be 6,906 yards, 60 touchdowns and six interceptions. That’s ridiculous. I think we can stop talking about whether he can regain that MOP form he had last year.
But No. 4 isn’t the only guy on offense who has picked up his game the last three weeks. Terrence Toliver has been unstoppable the last few games. He led the team in receiving again this week, with nine catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Ciante Evans, a very talented newcomer who made Fred Bennett expendable, was eaten alive by Toliver almost all night. The opening touchdown of the game — well, the third if you count the two that were negated because of penalties on that very same drive — was a beautiful throw from Collaros that was placed only where Toliver could catch it, and Toliver made a very difficult catch look easy. It was a thing of beauty. These two have developed a real rapport with one another and with Toliver’s abilities to get deep and Collaros’ love of throwing the deep ball, these two are going to continue to make magic happen over the next nine games.
Good, I guess: #CFLWired
TSN heavily promoted that this game would feature live mics on both head coaches and both starting quarterbacks and the outcome was a mixed bag of good and unnecessary. The idea was to give fans at home a chance to experience some of the things that happen in the huddle, on the field and on the sideline. While some aspects were pretty cool — seeing Zach Collaros urge Kent Austin to challenge a play in the first quarter gave some nice insight into the player-coach dynamic — hearing the play calls was kind of underwhelming. I imagine that was the aspect of this experiment that the Ticats objected to, and if they decide to do this in the future, that is the one thing I could do without. I give the CFL credit for trying something new, and while I think the timing is not great — I think this would have been a much better thing to try in a preseason game to try to increase ratings and not allow for a potential competitive imbalance — this was cool experiment that I hope to see in other games in the future.
Bad: Specials have been anything but
Great special teams play has been a trademark of the Ticats since Kent Austin took over and hired Jeff Reinebold as the team’s special teams coordinator, but this season has seen that unit take a dive. The coverage units have not been very effective, although in this one they did hem in Calgary’s ace returner Roy Finch, allowing him only 54 yards on five punt returns with a long of 13. But despite extending his streak of consecutive field goals to 17, Brett Maher did not have a particularly good day. His first punt of the evening was blocked, he had a punt later in the game go out of bounds and he badly missed on the onside kick the Ticats attempted after cutting Calgary’s lead to three. Maher has mostly been excellent for the Ticats this season, so this is not a baby-with-the-bath-water situation, but he needs to be better in key situations. The whole special teams unit needs to be better. We are at the halfway point of the season and the same mistakes that plagued this team in July are still around. That is simply not acceptable.
Bad: *sigh* So about challenges…
The challenge system is broken, and adding all those new challengeable plays, mostly penalties, in the offseason seems to have opened Pandora’s box. Even with the league altering the rules midweek to take away the “freebie” challenge, teams still challenged at a similar rate as they did before the change. The big example from this game was an illegal contact challenge by the Ticats that erased a 115-yard Tommie Campbell pick-six that would have ended the game. Instead, Austin challenged and the Ticats kept the ball when illegal contact was ruled to have occurred.
Was the call a bit ticky-tacky? Sure. Was it illegal contact? Yes. We can’t fault coaches for doing everything they can to try to win. And the idea that if the foul occurs away from the play it shouldn’t be called is ridiculous. If fouls that have no bearing on the outcome of a play were abolished, then Brandon Banks would be a Grey Cup MVP and the Ticats would have been champs in 2014. Calls away from or that have no consequence on the outcome of the play have been called for as long as the game has been around. A penalty is a penalty, and where it occurs or when it occurs should not change the fact that it is a penalty.
And to the people who want replay abolished all together: stop. That horse has left the barn. The people complaining about replay now would be the same ones complaining when a mistake that replay could have fixed occurs and there is nothing to do to fix it. There is just no pleasing some people.
So yes, I am like all of you and do not like some of the things that are now challengeable, but we have at least another half-a-season to live with it and maybe longer. We might as well accept that this is part of the league now and just move on.
The Ticats had a chance to show the rest of the league that they are the real deal and came up just short. They played a very good Calgary team tough, but just could not get out of their on way at times. That said, this was a very low-stakes game, in so much as it was an interdivisional matchup in late August and not an intradivisional matchup in late October. The Ticats had a chance to make a statement and didn’t, but a loss here is not going to end their season or really impact it in a big way.
Going forward, there are still some areas of this team that need work, but the second half of the season is where this team can really make a move. Six of their final nine games come against divisional opponents and with the Ticats just one point behind Ottawa for first, they are still well within reach of taking first place and playing the East Final in front of their hometown fans.
But there is still a lot of football left to play before we get to November and next up is maybe the biggest regular season game of the year: the Labour Day Classic. Few games each season get the blood boiling more than the one played on the first Monday in September and this year is no different.