In a game that was almost a must-win, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats did just enough to beat the Montreal Alouettes 20-17 on Friday night.
Bad: Worrisome win
As Kent Austin is fond of saying, it is never easy to win in pro football, but last night’s W came with a heaping helping of worry for the Ticats faithful. The Ticats are a Grey Cup contender in the East (for as much as that is worth) but needed a walk-off field goal from Brett Maher to beat a now 3-9 team that is all but out of the playoff hunt. That’s not good. They got the win to move to 6-6 and temporarily sit first in the East, but a tight battle with the Als will not calm any of the panic that emerged after last week’s loss to the Argos. The Ticats need to get things together next week in Regina against a terrible Riders team because in a fortnight the Grey Cup favourite Calgary Stampeders come to town and a performance like this will see the Tabbies lose to the Stamps once again.
Bad: What’s up with Zach?
I think most everyone thought the Ticats would pick up where they left off last season once Zach Collaros returned. Early returns were positive: Collaros looked like his old, dominant self, and while the wins didn’t come quickly, the first couple of losses were close ones to two of the best teams in the CFL. Then the debacle at BMO happened last weekend, but it was written off as a blip. That blip just got larger because Zach Collaros did not look good again against the Als. The two things he was most well known for last year was protecting the football and accuracy on deep passes. Last night he once again threw two interceptions, which gives him six in six games (he had just eight in his 12 starts last year) and failed to connect on a few deep passes. He just hasn’t looked like his all-world self the last couple games and when he is not on, the Ticats suffer.
Good: Chop and Dean
The defense was great last night and were the reason the Ticats were able to stay in, and eventually win, that game. They didn’t allow the Als into the end zone — their lone touchdown came on a blocked punt — and forced three turnovers. The two men most responsible for those turnovers were Emmanuel Davis and Larry Dean. Davis had another interception, his fourth of the season, and scooped up two fumbles. Both of those fumbles were forced by Dean, who has been exceptional so far in his first CFL season. Dean doesn’t get the ink his fellow defensive mates do, but he has quietly been Hamilton’s most consistent defensive player. Both guys stepped up when needed and the Ticats got the win because of it.
Good: Arnold ain’t the only running man
Ross Scheuerman got the start in the absence of C.J. Gable and no one expected much. The Ticats don’t run the ball with Gable, who is one of the league’s best backs when properly utilized. So when it was announced that No. 32 would miss the game, I thought it was possible the Ticats might not run the ball at all. That’s not an exaggeration. But not only did the Tabbies run the ball, they ran it well and ran it often. Scheuerman rushed the ball 16 times for 79 yards and chipped in with five catches for an additional 40 yards. That’s 119 total yards on 21 touches. The 21 touches matches Gable’s season high back on July 15, coincidentally also against Montreal. Scheuerman’s penultimate run of six yards will be one of the lasting memories from this game. When everyone in the building knew the Ticats were going to run, and Montreal defended it well, Scheuerman refused to go down, picked up the first down and essentially sealed the game for the Ticats. A run to the middle of the field on the game’s final offensive play was used to set Brett Maher up for a walk-off field goal. But without Scheuerman’s determination to pick up the first down two plays before the kick, the Als would have had some time left. Instead, the first-year Ticat fought for the extra yards and the Ticats were able to win the game with zeroes on the clock.
Bad: The PI that wasn’t
So this game was pretty well officiated, with just seven accepted penalties and one coaches’ challenge all game. But it was that one challenge where the CFL just had to CFL. From the replay shown on the big screen at Tim Hortons Field, it sure looked like Montreal’s Marc-Olivier Brouillette hits Hamilton’s Terrence Toliver before the ball gets to him. Seems like it should be pretty clear-cut pass interference. But it wasn’t called. Figuring out what is and isn’t a foul is a fool’s errand, and it seems like the command centre doesn’t know what a penalty is any more than the regular fan in the stands. It is frustrating to watch and while I prefer when the refs let the players play, you have to call the obvious ones. That call looked pretty obvious to me.
Bad: All the small things
So I was going to rant about another blocked punt, but you can read my thoughts on that from last week (just change the threes to fours). In short, this has to stop. But the Ticats had a chance to do to the Als what the Als (and Argos, twice, and Stamps) did to them, but Will Smith just missed the ball. And that exchange — where Montreal got their block and scored whereas the Ticats didn’t — is an example of the small handful of plays that can swing a game. The Ticats were the on the other side of big special teams plays last year (and pretty much every year since 2013) and now those plays are going against them. That’s why after 12 games they are 6-6 and not 8-4 (like they were last year).
Last night’s game was a slog. It was ugly in parts, boring in others, and had very little in the way of excitement. It wasn’t the worst CFL game ever, but it wasn’t all that much fun either. But the Ticats found a way to get it done and now sit at 6-6 and in first place in the East Division, at least for the time being. With the Redblacks playing on Saturday, Ottawa could take back first place with a win over the Calgary Stampeders. The Argos also play, in Winnipeg, and could keep the East race a tight one with a win over the Bombers. Ticats fans, more than normal, will be cheering for losses by both their division mates.
This game will also hopefully be a wakeup call that no team can be taken easy. The Als came into this game a complete trainwreck, with in-team fighting and rumours swirling about the future of Jim Popp, and they very nearly won the game. The Ticats next head to Regina for their final game at old Mosaic Stadium against a terrible, and desperate, Roughriders team. The Riders are 1-10 and are very much in next-year mode, but they are still dangerous and, as last night’s game showed that no CFL team can be taken lightly. With that date with the Stamps looming, it will be important for the Tabbies to take care of business in Saskatchewan so they can have maybe a little momentum when they attempt to take down the best team in the CFL.