This game will be defined by two things for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats: a massive blown call and injuries. The former played almost no part in the Edmonton Eskimos downing the Ticats 29-26, but the latter definitely did.
Bad: The call
Where to start with what might have been the worst of all the blown calls — and there have been many — that we have seen so far this season. Let’s make one thing clear, this call did not cost the Ticats the game. Even if the correct call was made, it still would have been Edmonton’s ball, they still would have run the clock out and they still would have won the game.
That said, what the hell was that!? How in the hell can a ball touched by the opposition and knocked out of bounds be deemed an illegal kickoff? The CFL has admitted that the wrong call was made, something they have been forced to do numerous times this season, but that still doesn’t negate the fact that the on-field officials seemingly don’t know the rules to their own game. That is more than discouraging; that’s downright scary. If the officials don’t know the rules, who should?
But this botched call is just the latest in a series of botched calls and it calls into question whether the CFL can ever truly fix their officiating problem. And yes, this is a problem. When the league has to issue corrections on a nearly weekly basis, you have a problem. Until the CFL, its teams and its owners decide to actually fix the problem by better training officials, the on-field product will suffer and fans’ confidence in the league will continue to dwindle.
I have been a fan of the CFL since the late 1980s, been a Ticats season ticket holder since 2010 and last night was my breaking point. I have never looked more forward to an offseason than I have this one. I am just ready for this season to be over. My excitement for these last two Ticats games have very little to do with the games that will be played. Once the Ticats season ends, likely in the East Semi-Final, that will be it for me for the 2016 season. No watching the East or West Final, no watching the Grey Cup. I need a break and that break cannot come soon enough.
Bad: The injuries
Worse than any officiating blunder is the long list of injuries that came from this game. Andy Fantuz, who was my front runner for East MOP, is done for the year with a torn ACL. This is the ultimate gut punch. Fantuz was having his best season since 2010 and was on the verge of playing a full season for the first time since that magical campaign that saw him lead the league in receiving and win Most Outstanding Canadian. But that is not to be. On an innocuous play, Fantuz went down and now his season is over, and that is truly a tragic thing.
But Fantuz’s injury might be the worst, but it wasn’t the scariest. Recently signed defensive back Derrius Brooks was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital after lying on the field for several minutes in the third quarter. He has reportedly been released from hospital, which is great, but watching him lay on the field for what seemed like forever was frightening.
Brooks wasn’t the only DB to leave the game as Johnny Adams was also injured and forced from action. I have lost count of how many defensive backs this team has lost, but if you just think about some of them — Craig Butler, Rico Murray, Courtney Stephen, Adams and Brooks— that is one helluva secondary. No wonder the Ticats have struggled on the back end so much this year.
Bad: The offense for most of the game
When the game started and the Ticats scored on the opening series, marching down the field with relative ease, it looked like all would be right in Tigertown. Then the next series saw them move the ball, but stall and kick a field goal. The after that was similar, with a stalled drive leading to a field goal attempt, but this one was missed. Three drives, three scores, though they were of diminishing variety each time. Still, the Ticats managed to put points on the board early and it felt like this was going to be their game. Then they went nearly two-and-a-half quarters before scoring again. By the time they found the end zone again, Edmonton had used the time in between to build up an 18-point lead. Hamilton made it interesting at the end with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to three, but it was too little, too late.
Outside of Week 1 against Toronto and the blowout win over Saskatchewan back in August, the Ticats offense has gone into slumber at some point in every game. They have made three comebacks after being down by at least 15 points this year, a CFL record. But you don’t make comebacks of that variety without having problems scoring during the game. Hamilton can score, but not doing so consistently is why they are 7-10.
Bad: The missing turning point
The Ticats had a chance to blow the game wide open early and they didn’t capitalize. Cassius Vaughn made a great break on a Mike Reilly pass and only a to drop a sure interception that would have gone for six. Vaughn had no one in front of him and would have waltzed to the end zone, but he dropped the pass and the Eskimos got a second lease on life. They made the Ticats pay by scoring a touchdown on the very next play. Instead of it being 17-0 Ticats, it was 10-6 — Sean Whyte missed the extra point — and all the momentum the Ticats could have seized was lost. If Vaughn makes that play, we are having a very different discussion today.
Good: C.J. Gable
C.J. Gable was Hamilton’s best player by a country mile last night. He touched the ball 15 times (six runs, nine catches) for 143 total yards and a touchdown. Gable ran well early, but the Ticats had to abandon the running game when they got behind, but he stayed involved via the passing game, especially when Fantuz left the game. We all know Gable has the skills to do this on a weekly basis, and he has now been heavily involved three straight weeks. That needs to continue.
Bad: The change along the offensive line
After a superlative performance against the Redblacks a week ago, the Ticats made a change along the offensive that was to their detriment. Brandon Revenberg was moved from right tackle back to guard and the underwhelming Terrence Campbell was inserted back into the lineup at right tackle after missing the previous game. Campbell took two drive-stalling holding penalties and was part of the problem with protection most of the night. Zach Collaros ran for his life, especially in the second half, and big part of why was the change along the line. With the injury to Fantuz, the Ticats are going to have to change up their ratio, so perhaps we will see four Canadians — Revenberg, Peter Dyakowski, Mike Filer and Ryan Bomben — start on the offensive line in the regular season finale against Montreal. The Ticats will be better for it.
Hamilton had a golden opportunity to seize control of first place in the East Division and failed to do so and with Ottawa’s win on Saturday, the Ticats are now locked into second in the East and will host whichever team from the West crosses over. For the record, Hamilton is 1-5 combined vs. their potential playoff opponent this season.
Can the Ticats still make something of this season? Maybe, but the road to a 16th championship will be the harder one and for a team that hasn’t string together back-to-back wins since July, expecting them to do that and then some is probably foolish.