Even in the hand grenade that is the East Division, close doesn’t count.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats fell 30-29 to the Ottawa Redblacks Friday night, missing a 47-yard field goal that would have given them a late lead. But there were plenty of missed opportunities and one controversial replay decision that also played a significant role.
With just under seven minutes left to play and the Ticats leading by a single point, Ottawa receiver Greg Ellingson made what looked to be a catch over the middle, the ball popping loose as he went to the ground. The Ticats challenged, alleging the Ottawa receiver fumbled the football. Instead, the command centre ruled the pass incomplete. The Redblacks kicked a field goal and led by two with just over five minutes to play.
Hamilton head coach Kent Austin was clearly frustrated by the call and didn’t want to discuss the explanation he received on the field. But there was no mistaking the impact.
“Huge. Huge. It won the football game for them,” he said.
There were other factors. The Ticats scored on their opening drive, but the Redblacks responded with 20 straight points courtesy of a trio of Hamilton turnovers, a couple of two-and-outs and some truly shoddy tackling by a number of Ticat defenders. Whatever intensity the home side had in the early going all but evaporated as Ottawa imposed their will offensively.
The second half was a different story. Quarterback Jeremy Masoli, filling in for an injured Zach Collaros, led the team on two scoring drives to re-take the lead. Masoli finished with 278 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.
“The difference is three of four plays,” Masoli said afterwards.”I can specifically think of three throws that I would love to have back right now and one bad decision on that first interception.”
Still, they had a chance. Hamilton got the ball back in Ottawa territory with just over three minutes left but couldn’t register a first down. Kicker Brett Maher, who had a 84.6 per cent accuracy rate coming in – including five for seven beyond the 40-yard line – was wide right from 47 yards out.
“I just missed it. That’s just one that needs to go through. I don’t know what else to say about it,” Maher said. “I feel sick to my stomach and like I let everyone in the room down. Hopefully, I’ll have another opportunity.”
With the loss, the Ticats fall to 6-9 and now trail the Redblacks by three points for first place in the East. These two teams will meet again next Friday in Ottawa, a game Hamilton must win in order to have any shot at the division title.