A broken Ticats’ season comes to a familiar end

There will be the urge, in the immediate emotional aftermath of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ loss in the East semifinal, to blame outside factors: the officiating, the wind, the constant stream of injuries. The officiating again.

But the harsh reality of the Ticats’ 24-21 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday is that this was the same old story, writ large: this Hamilton team did the same unfortunate things they’ve been doing all year. Usually, it just cost them a loss. This time it, it ended their season.

They fell behind early, 18-3 by halftime. That’s not unusual. They took penalties, just like always. They were porous defensively, with often egregious tackling. Very familiar. There were some odd coaching decisions. When there were opportunities — golden, game-on-a-platter opportunities — they could not, would not take advantage.

A third-and-one gamble that fails. An overthrow of an open receiver in the end zone. A dropped pass. Another end-zone toss that comes up short. The inability to cash in on a blocked punt. The failure to scoop up fumbles on the ground. Allowing a team to run for 22 yards on second-and-a-mile on the final drive.

“Any time you’re in a close ball game like this, it’s going to come down to seven or eight plays,” Hamilton head coach Kent Austin said. “The majority of those plays have to go your way and it didn’t happen.”

Yes, we’ve heard this song before.

There were, of course, some inspirational moments. This Ticats team, if nothing else, was remarkably resilient.

An onside punt and some late game heroics from the offence tied this contest at 21 late in the fourth. Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly was on the bench and Esks were reeling, it looked like the Ticats might, yet again, find a way.

Then, a holding penalty of the dubious variety compounded by a replay challenge for roughing the passer that ultimately went unanswered.

The league says it wants to protect its quarterbacks.

“I don’t have anything to say about it,” Austin said. “Everybody saw it. Make up your own mind.”

The Eskimos deserve some credit here, too. Running back John White eviscerated the Ticats to the tune of 160 yards and two touchdowns. They lost Reilly, let their lead slip away to nothing and — on the road, with Tim Hortons Field finally alive — found the inner fortitude to get in done. Both teams showed heart but the Eskimos made plays when it absolutely mattered.

Ticat quarterback Zach Collaros who, like his team, has alternated his occasional moments of brilliance with some poor play, threw for 236 yards on 20 of 31 passing but it was his interception with 90 seconds left that will be the defining moment of his season.

“Bad decision, bad throw, worst possible time,” Collaros said. “It’s all on me and I’ll own it.”

It isn’t, of course. The responsibility for this profoundly disappointing 2016 season will be the subject of much deliberation and debate over the next weeks and months but it is ultimately a collective effort that leads to both wins and losses. Especially ones that end a season. And they all pay the same the price. “It’s hard because you know you’re never going to be in the locker-room with the same guys,” Collaros said. “We had a great opportunity.”

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