Ticats need a lucky break (or lack thereof) to take down Esks

For the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, bad things seem to happen when the Edmonton Eskimos are around.

In addition to ending the Ticats’ 2016 campaign with a last-second field goal in the East Semi-Final, the Eskimos were, at the very least, witnesses to catastrophic moments the last two seasons, not-so-innocent bystanders as the Ticat season changed course for the worse.

In 2015, the Ticats were 8-3 when the Eskimos came to town for a September contest that saw Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros go down with a knee injury that would end his season and severely dent the team’s Grey Cup hopes (they went 2-5 the rest of he way.)

The following October, Canadian receiver Andy Fantuz, in the midst of his best season as a Ticat, ruined his knee on a seemingly innocent play against, yes, the Edmonton Eskimos. Fantuz is still out and the team hasn’t won a game since he went down.

That dismal record includes an 0-3 start in 2017 with those same Eskimos coming to town on Thursday for Hamilton’s second home game in six days. It would be easy to say that things couldn’t get any worse for the Ticats but head coach Kent Austin said there’s a difference between “worried” — which likely describes half the Black and Gold faithful — and “concerned,” which encapsulate the rest.

“Worry is different than concern. We don’t worry but we’re always concerned. We’d be concerned if we were 3-0,” Austin said. “It’s systematic. The first thing you have to do is identify where the weaknesses are and then you have to determine how to correct it, if you can.”

The defensive secondary which has surrendered career-passing days in two of the first three weeks, is likely still on the list of said concerns. Hamilton has made another set of minor tweaks, moving Keon Lyn from strong-side linebacker to corner and adding Terrence Frederick as a back up but otherwise the roster remains largely unchanged from the crew that lost 41-26 to B.C. last Saturday.

“Belief is a funny thing … winning takes care of a lot of that stuff. The guys just need some positive things to happen, get a victory and get back on track,” Austin said.

In Edmonton, things are already rolling along nicely. Led by head coach Jason Maas and quarterback Mike Reilly, the Esks are the last undefeated team in the CFL and are finding a way a win: their three victories this season have come by a combined nine points.

“Winning shows character. Since last September, we’ve been in a lot of tight games so they know how to win,” Maas said.

“When games get tight, guys don’t tighten up they just keep battling. It’s a mindset. It’s a culture that we try and create on a day-to-day basis. When you win close games, you gain confidence.”

That is, of course, exactly what the Ticats are looking for: some reassurance that their work and talent will eventually be recognized.

“You need positive things to reinforce your emotions,” Austin said. “Winning provides the emotional glue. We want to win every game we play but right now we’re just trying to get our first one and that will go a long way.”

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