Preview: Ticats need to take advantage of Alouettes in-fighting

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are coming off a bad loss to a division last rival, starting two rookies on their offensive line and a star receiver describes the mood around the team as “a little bit angry.”

Yet they look like the picture of peace and tranquility compared to the Montreal Alouettes.

The team from La Belle Province has spent the week embroiled in controversy, then capped it on Thursday when quarterback Rakeem Cato stormed out of an interview with Montreal Gazette beat reporter Herb Zurkowsky after the team’s walk-through at Tim Hortons Field on Thursday.

Cato was involved in a practice confrontation with Alouette receivers Kenny Stafford and Duron Carter this week and became upset by a question Zurkowsky asked about the situation. He walked away, proclaiming loudly “I’m never talking to you again.”

He was eventually was escorted from the field by offensive co-ordinator Anthony Calvillo.

Zurkowsky reportedly asked Cato if he felt “bullied” by his teammates.

Cato’s emotional state may be partially explainable. During an earlier media session, Cato said that a close friend had been shot to death in Miami this week.

“Everything is going out to him. I was just talking to him 48 hours ago, saying how we were going to play basketball in the off-season, ” Cato said. “These are things I’m going through, personally. The thing with Kenny and D.C., that’s secondary. That ain’t nothing.”

For his part, Carter said he had not spoken to his quarterback about the altercation on Tuesday and, in fact, the two do not appear to be on speaking terms at all beyond football necessities.

“No, I haven’t said anything to him. I don’t got nothing to say, ” said, Carter who was labelled a “cancer” by a TSN commentator recently.

“I guess it’s a perception thing and I don’t care how people perceive me.”

With a 3-8 record and rumours swirling about the fate of head coach and general manager Jim Popp the Alouettes are on a bye next week, prime time to make a change – Montreal needs a win this week to have any hope of staying in the East Division playoff race.

That makes them a desperate, dangerous opponent, and the Ticats haven’t exactly taken care of business in similar situations this season. They provided a winless, vulnerable Winnipeg Blue Bombers squad a much-needed victory in Week 3, then followed up a convincing Labour Day win with a stinker of a loss in Toronto.

That’s put the team in a foul mood says receiver Luke Tasker, actually looking forward to playing their third game in an absurd 11 days. There wasn’t the usual revelry after the team’s walk-through on Thursday and even linebacker Simoni Lawrence was uncharacteristically subdued.

“It wasn’t the usual hype. Simoni just said ‘don’t mess around, don’t goof off, let’s just go out there and win, ” Tasker said. “We missed an opportunity last week to really stake a claim in the East and now we’re in a fight for it.”

The difference is that the Ticats appear united in their fight, while Alouettes are fighting with each other (and reporters). Whether that makes Montreal easy targets – and whether Hamilton can take advantage – remains to be seen.

Game 12
Montreal Alouettes (3-8) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5-6)
Tim Hortons Field
Friday, Sept. 16
Game time: 7 p.m.
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150

The storyline for Montreal: Quarterback Rakeem Cato was involved in a heated argument and shoving match with receivers Kenny Stafford and Duron Carter this week, adding to the turmoil in Montreal. With veteran pivot Kevin Glenn traded to Winnipeg and speculation that general manager and head coach Jim Popp is on the hot seat, Montreal needs a win to have much hope of staying in the East Division race.

Key injuries: Defensive back Billy Parker, defensive lineman Michael Klassen and quarterback Jonathon Crompton are all out with injury while Shane Carden, signed this week after the Glenn deal, is the No. 3 quarterback.

Five funky Montreal stats:

1. Chip Cox had a fumble return for a touchdown against the B.C. Lions last week, giving him six for his career. That’s tops in CFL history.
2. Since Anthony Calvillo’s last start on Aug. 8, 2013, the Alouettes have used 10 different starting quarterbacks compiling a 24-34, .414 record.
3. With a 3-8 record so far this season, Jim Popp now has a career 22-35 (.386) record as a head coach.
4. Defensive end John Bowman is now ninth all-time on the career CFL sacks list and is one of only two active players in the top-25 (Calgary’s Charleston Hughes is the other.)
5. The Alouettes are the only team in the CFL without a come-from-behind victory this season.

The storyline for Hamilton: The Ticats are coming off a disappointing 33-21 loss to the Toronto Argonauts last Sunday, one that has left them in the thick of a muddled East Division. The team will be looking for improvement in all three phases: the offensive line must protect Collaros, the defensive secondary needs to be better and special teams would like to play entire game without having a punt blocked – something that’s happened the last three weeks.

Key injuries and roster changes: The left side of the Ticat offensive line – the one charged with protecting quarterback Zach Collaros’ blind side – will feature a pair of players making their first CFL start in tackle Terrence Campbell and guard Brandon Revenberg. Campbell replaces Brian Simmons, who is being benched, while Revenberg is in for the injured Peter Dyakowski. Running back C.J. Gable, another key cog in pass protection, is also down with an injury so look for American Ross Scheuerman and Canadian Anthony Woodson to see action. Canadian special teamer Louis Richardson will play after being signed this week.

Five funky Hamilton stats:

1. Since his return five games ago, quarterback Zach Collaros has led the offence to 18 touchdown drives in 67 opportunities. That 27 per cent rate is by far the best mark in the CFL.
2. The Ticats have just two players with more than 100 career starts on their roster (Peter Dyakowski and Andy Fantuz). The Alouettes have nine.
3. Kent Austin is 7-3 (.700) against the Montreal Alouettes in his head coaching career, his highest winning percentage against any club.
4. Hamilton leads the CFL with 28 passes of 30 yards or more.
5. Average rushing attempts in Hamilton’s five victories this season: 17. In their losses: 10.5.

TSN play-by-play: Chris Cuthbert and Matt Dunigan

Referee: Al Bradbury

Weather: Clear, 22 degrees with winds out of the Northeast at 15 km/h