For the second time in as many seasons, an officiating mistake has cost the Ticats dearly in their drive for an East Division title.
The most recent error came on a key replay review in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats loss to the Ottawa Redblacks in Canadian Football League action Friday night. 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.
On the next play, the Redblacks kicked a field goal and led by two with just over five minutes to play.
Those points would prove to be the difference, as Ottawa held on for the 30-29 win.
But CFL vice-president of football Glen Johnson acknowledged on Saturday that replay official Jeff Harbin made a mistake.
“The Replay Official should not have ruled the pass incomplete last night on the Replay Review,” Johnson said. “It was a catch.”
The mistake could be a costly one for the Ticats who are now 6-9 and trail the Redblacks by three points for first place in the East. The two teams will meet again Friday in Ottawa, a game Hamilton must win in order to have any shot at the division title.
In 2015, the call was a little bit different — there was no replay involved — but the results were similar.
With just under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter and Ottawa leading by six, Ticat defensive back Brandon Stewart intercepted Redblacks’ quarterback Henry Burris and returned it for a touchdown. But officials called two penalties, an illegal block on Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence and unnecessary roughness on defensive back Craig Butler.
The CFL later determined that neither flag should have been thrown, but Hamilton lost 12-6 and ultimately ceded the East Division crown to the Redblacks, who had a week’s rest then hosted and won the East Final over the Ticats.
So for the second straight year, an officiating blunder may very well cost the Ticats a bye week and the ability to host the division final.
Despite the loss on Friday, the rest of the weekend went pretty well for Hamilton. Both the Toronto and Montreal were blown out by West Division teams; the Argos falling 29-11 to the Roughriders, while the Alouettes lost 22-8 to Calgary.
That leaves the Ticats alone in second place in the East Division and still very much in control of their playoff destiny, largely due to the fact that Hamilton holds tiebreakers over both the Argos and the Als.
A win Friday in Ottawa clinches a post-season berth for Hamilton and guarantees them a home playoff date. A loss by both Montreal and Toronto — both on the road against the Riders and the Stamps, respectively — would accomplish the same thing. The Ticats can still win the East and a first-round playoff bye with a win in Ottawa and some help.
Increasingly, however, it looks like the Ticats will host the Eastern semifinal against the as-yet-to-be-determined West Division crossover team. That’s the tougher road, to be sure, and one the officials will have had a key role is determining.