‘That was fun’: Ticats make the playoffs via hard-fought OT win over Ottawa

Still soggy from standing on the rain-drenched sidelines, still filled with the energy and emotion of his team’s thrilling overtime victory that clinched a playoff berth, Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin summed up a remarkable Friday night in Ottawa in three little words.

“That was fun.”

The Ticats stormed back from 27-12 halftime deficit to win 39-36 over the Redblacks, rallying despite a shaky first half that was marred by turnovers and shoddy defensive play. Ottawa scored on five of their six offensive possessions and Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw two brutal interceptions.

Having lost three straight, on the road and in the rain, it would have been an easy game to give up on. The post-season was all but assured anyway so allowing Ottawa to run away with the proceedings would have been easy enough. But that’s not how this team does it, as a season-long series of comebacks – some of the seriously improbable variety – have shown.

In the jubilant Ticat locker room after the game, players were quick to credit their teammates, the offence praising the defence, the defence showing love for special teams. This was a win that everybody got to share in because everybody played a role.

Kicker Brett Maher missed a game-winning kick last week, another field goal and an extra point on Friday, then banged through the winning points in double overtime.

“I was happy to have that opportunity and come through for the team,” Maher said. “We don’t feel like we backed our way in to the playoffs, we feel like we’re peaking at the right time.”

He wasn’t the only one for whom the redemption storyline fits. After throwing two interceptions in the first half, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli strafed the Ottawa defence in the final two quarters and did enough in overtime, finishing with 359 yards passing and three touchdowns.

And the win came in the same place where the Redblacks ended his team’s Grey Cup run a year ago – in heartbreaking fashion.

“I feel like I got a monkey off my back,” Masoli said. “I got a win in Ottawa.”

Finally, the defence. Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris shredded the new-look secondary, putting up 244 yards in the first half. But again, the final thirty minutes and the extra frame were a different story.

There were no magic adjustments from defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, just a plea for the most basic improvement of all.

“Coach came in here and said the calls ain’t going to change – play better,” said defensive back Dominique Ellis. “When it mattered, we didn’t give up [expletive].”

With the win the Ticats improve to 7-9 and, in addition to locking down a post-season berth, are still in the running for the East Division title. They’ll need at least one win in their final two games and some help to get past the now 7-8-1 Redblacks. Ottawa plays a pair against the Bombers while Hamilton finishes the season with home dates against Edmonton and Montreal.

Then the playoffs.

Sounds like fun.

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