The 2017 Ticats lost their first pre-season game 30-29 to the Redblacks in Ottawa on Thursday and here are nine things we learned.
1. Pre-season losses are meaningless but they still suck. These games don’t count in the standings but it was a somber-ish Hamilton locker room after the loss. No music, no revelry, no fun. Most of the players who were out there on offence and defence in the final moments for Hamilton will not play a major role in 2017 but it still stings to blow a late lead – nine points with 11 minutes to go – and lose. Will this loss have an impact on the season? No. Only a exhibition blowout of epic proportions can shake a team’s confidence in any real way and this wasn’t that, clearly.
2. Second thoughts about the secondary. The Redblacks rolled out 10 starters on offence and shredded an inexperienced Ticats’ defence that featured perhaps two starters and just six players with any CFL experience at all. Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris threw for 145 yards on 12 for 15 passing with a touchdown on just two drives and Hamilton surrendered scores on the first three of the first four Ottawa possessions.
Things tightened up as Ottawa’s backups made their way into the game, and while it’s easy to dismiss the performance as typical pre-season inequity, the Hamilton secondary is still very much unsettled. They may need as many as three new starters to emerge from its group of first-year players and Thursday’s performance will do little to quell the concerns about the back end.
3. For punt sakes. Neither Sergio Castillo or Ryan Hawkins got a field goal opportunity with Castillo nailing just one 32-yard touchdown convert and missing another. Castillo punted five times for an excellent 39.5 yard net average – though he shanked one for 23 yards – and his three kickoffs were also strong (65 yard average.) Hawkins punted five times for a 35 yard net and his two kickoffs averaged 54 yards, including one out of bounds.
I asked Austin if he still thought he had the kicking solution in house.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll evaluate that over the next day or two but we’ll probably continue to look,” he said.
4. Quarterback concerns. Matt Johnson went down with what looked like a significant lower leg injury and Everett Golson was limping after hurting himself on a goal-line sneak in the third quarter. Kent Austin didn’t have an update on either guy but Johnson’s did not look good. If Golson misses time as well, the team may need to bring in a fresh arm.
5. Credit for KE. Kevin Elliott, in the mix for a starting job in receiving corps, put up six catches for 94 yards and a couple of signature ball spins. Demarr Aultman had a long catch and run, while Canadian Mike Jones made a nice leaping grab in the first quarter and Felix Flaubert-Lussier had a tough 16-yard catch-and-run in the second half. Both guys could play prominent roles this season.
6. A little Masoli magic. Jeremiah Masoli got the start at quarterback for Hamilton and while his numbers were pedestrian (five-for-eight, 90 yards) he got a lucky bounce that turned what looked like a sure interception into a long gain. On the next play, he threw a beautiful rainbow for touchdown. Masoli extended some plays with his legs and ran for a two-point conversion, looking very much like the capable 1A starter that he is.
7. Dap for Davon. International defensive tackle Davon Coleman has had a strong training camp and followed that up with an excellent performance on Thursday night, including a sack and a pass knock-down that was nearly an interception. The Ticats have lined up with two Canadians inside for much of camp for ratio reasons, but Coleman gives them a solid American option.
8. Back, back, backups. Ross Scheuerman and Alex Green are vying for the backup job behind C.J. Gable, and both had good nights. Scheuerman caught the touchdown from Masoli, making a nice over-the-shoulder grab, while Green had a nice 45-yard run and a couple of catches.
9. Crowd sourcing in the capital. Attendance was announced as 23,252, a solid pre-season crowd on a beautiful night in Ottawa (especially when compared to the ghost town that was BMO Field.) The Redblacks also announced Thursday that just 3,000 tickets remain for November’s Grey Cup and are now on sale to the general public.
The Ticats are now off until Sunday when they return to practice at McMaster. They play their home pre-season game — which will be live-streamed by the team — next Friday against Toronto.