As identities go, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats could do a whole lot worse than “resilient.”
And, in fact, they have.
Throughout the course of 2016, the Ticats have been inconsistent, unpredictable and controversial. They’ve been downright bad at times. Every so often, there have been glimpses of greatness.
But there’s no questioning the “resilient” label, though.
With their comeback win against Ottawa last week, the Ticats have rallied from 15 or more points to win on three occasions this season, the most of any club in CFL history. Since taking over as head coach in 2013, Kent Austin has led Hamilton to six comeback wins from deficits of 10 points or more.
Austin wasn’t familiar with the stats, but recognized the sentiment.
“We don’t ever quit, we don’t ever think we’re out of a football game, ” he said Thursday, a day before his team hosts the Edmonton Eskimos.
“That’s more a testament to the players, guys believing in each other. We talk a lot about focusing on the next play, that the only way you can get back in a football game is to execute the next play and string those together.”
All six CFL post-season teams have been selected at this point but both Edmonton and Hamilton still have plenty to play for. The Ticats are gunning for top spot in the East and a first-round bye while the Eskimos still have a shot at second in the West and a home playoff date.
More importantly, both these teams are trying to play their best football when it matters most, which is to say right about now. Ticats defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, whose unit rallied after a tough start against the Redblacks, says that win can be a launching point for something significant.
“I think there is carry-over. What did one win do for Winnipeg when they were 1-4? What did one win do for Saskatchewan after the way the started?” Steinauer asked, rhetorically. “I think there’s proof each week that you can get started with one.”
On offence, quarterback Zach Collaros returns (again) after missing two games with a concussion. The third-year Ticat has had tough luck against the Eskimos, having suffered a head injury in a 2014 contest, then blowing out his knee against the same squad the following season. Luck is all it is, though.
“I don’t think it’s anything about the Eskimos, injuries happen in football, ” Collaros said. “I’m aware of it because I get reminded of it.”
If Collaros’ unit has an identity, it’s as pass-happy bunch – and for good reason. The Ticats throw the ball 76 per cent of the time, the second-highest rate in the CFL behind the Saskatchewan Roughriders (who are 5-11 and pass a lot because they’ve been behind a lot.) The league average is 72 per cent, up from 66 per cent last season.
C.J. Gable, however, has run the ball 25 times in the past two contests. Collaros would like to see that trend continue.
“Any time you get the run game going, it makes it easier for everybody else. Quarterbacks enjoy throwing the football but any time you can run the football, it opens up other things, ” Collaros said. “I can’t tell you how many times in the last two seasons we’ve gone into a game and the defensive coverage changes against us because we have a tendency to throw the football more.”
Clearly, identities can evolve over the course of a season and the Ticats still have time to shape their own. Resiliency is one of those things that’s nice to have – it’s even better when it isn’t needed.