The Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost 23-16 to the Toronto Argonaut in their final pre-season game Friday night at Tim Hortons Field. Here are eight things we learned.
1. Zach’s back. Ticats quarterback Zach Collaros looked rusty early and polished late, orchestrating a scoring drive in the second quarter which included a touchdown toss to Brian Tyms. The offence sputtered early, going two-and-out on the first two possessions and put themselves in a couple of bad second-and-long situations. But once Collaros found his rhythm — the Ticats were also going into a stiff breeze in the opening stanza — the offence looked good, Luke Tasker, Terrence Toliver, Kevin Elliott and Tyms all catching balls.
2. Defence works, then rests. The Hamilton first unit played about a quarter and forced four two-and-outs while not allowing a single first down, never mind a point. Simoni Lawrence had a hellacious hit and Adrian Tracy had a sack that forced a safety on the next play. That said, the Argos started McLeod Bethel-Thompson at quarterback, leaving starter Ricky Ray on the sidelines.
3. Sir-Punts-A-Lot. The kickers split the game with Sergio Castillo taking the first half and he punted seven times for a 47-yard average but didn’t get a field goal opportunity. He did, however, hit both of his 32-yard convert attempts. Castillo has punted well all training camp and, after a shaky start, has looked better on field goals. Was Friday’s performance enough to earn him the job? Maybe. Probably.
4. Long wait at the gate. There will still hundreds of fans waiting in long lines outside Tim Hortons Field at kickoff as new security measures, including metal detectors, slowed things considerably. The Ticats said the changes were part of new security protocols for all major events in Canada.
5. The improvements the Ticats have made to Tim Hortons Field this season were on display for the first time Friday night. They include the Stipley Bar in the south concourse — featuring James Street BBQ joint Salt Lick — and a series of murals from local artist Richard Mace which have turned the otherwise dull concrete walls into something local and colourful. The new Craft Gardens features beer from Beamsville-based Bench Brewing. A new family-friendly playground will be ready for the home opener and kids will be allowed to run around on the field after the game.
6. The Canadian kids are special. The Ticats top draft pick, defensive end Connor McGough, made two special teams tackles in the first half and chipped in a sack. National running back Sean Thomas-Erlington, another rookie, made a touchdown-saving tackle on punt coverage and receiver Felix Flaubert-Lussier had a takedown on special teams as well. All three played special teams sparingly in college — they were busy contributing on offence and defence — but will need to contribute at the pro level: Friday’s performances are a positive sign.
7. Bubble boys. A number of players made strong cases to make the final roster, including right tackle Jordan Swindle, defensive tackle Davon Coleman, running back Ross Scheuerman, receiver Damarr Aultman.
8. Decision day. Teams across the CFL have until 10 p.m. on Saturday to set their final roster: 46 players, plus a 10-man practice squad as well as any injured players. Let the nervous waiting begin.