Ticats must overcome injuries, elements to beat Riders

There are a lot of reasons why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should lose Saturday’s game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which isn’t the same as saying they will.

The Ticats are coming off a hard-fought, if unspectacular last-second win over the Montreal Alouettes last week, and yet the warm afterglow of that victory – one that catapulted them into first place in the East Division no less – was quickly extinguished by an onslaught of discouraging injury news.

After a week of practice and a series of he-might-play-or-he-might-not equivocations from head coach Kent Austin, the final roster for Saturday’s game is a little bit grim. Gone are the team’s top two receivers Luke Tasker and Chad Owens, their leading rusher C.J. Gable and his backup Ross Scheuerman, as well as their Canadian safety Courtney Stephen.

We could keep going.

During Austin’s tenure, the Ticats have been remarkably adept at dealing with both the usual challenges of football – they’ve faced the injury apocalypse before – and the unusual, things like a season in Guelph and other stadium-related hijinks.

But of a significant number of helixes in the cultural DNA are now missing, for one reason or another. A number of players and coaches schooled in the Austin Way have departed, either by their own volition or otherwise, and another batch of it is, well, hurt.

The holdovers and new recruits have spent much of this week getting back to basics, installing training camp concepts and doing their best to deliver a crash course in the team’s core philosophy.

Special teams co-ordinator Jeff Reinebold spent an inordinate amount of time this week schooling the fundamentals, while veteran receiver Andy Fantuz emphasized the importance of focus amid distraction and chaos in a rare post-practice address on Friday.

Oh, and the weather is going to be awful for the game, with the forecast calling for rain and high winds. That will test the mettle, too.

Amid the doom and gloom, there are some bright spots. The defensive unit is missing just a single starter, safety Courtney Stephen, and played well against Montreal. The offensive line is intact from last week. And all the players being asked to step up have performed in the past: replacement receivers John Chiles and Junior Collins have CFL experience, while Mike Daly, now in for Stephen, had three interceptions in six sneaky-good starts last season.

And they are playing the 2-10 Saskatchewan Roughriders, a team they dismantled to the tune of 53-7 less than a month ago. But coming off an overtime win against the Edmonton Eskimos last Sunday, the Riders are looking pretty feisty as far as doormats go.

They may have just a 0.07 per cent chance of making the playoffs – that according to sportsclubstats.com – and would need virtually everything to break right from now until November to have even a chance. But they’ll be at home in front of a crowd with all day to, um, prepare for the game (a.k.a. drink a boatload of Pilsener beer.) They’re a nostalgic bunch, these citizens of Riderville, and Saturday’s contest will be the third-last ever played at Mosaic Stadium

Austin is a big part of that history, having won Grey Cups with Saskatchewan as both a coach and a player (and having lost one with the Ticats). There may be some element of nostalgia deep within him for the old Saskie barn, but he won’t be feeling it on game time.

He’s simply got too many other things to worry about.

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