Playing their second game in six days and ravaged by injury, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats stormed out to a big lead, then hung on for a gutsy 26-22 win over the Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday.
The Ticats opened the game with what was easily their best 30 minutes of football.
After forcing the Redblacks two-and-out on their opening drive, Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli marched the Ticats to the end zone, connecting with Jalen Saunders on a long pass pay then handing it off to C.J. Gable for a quick 7-0 lead.
Their second possession led to a field goal and – after the Redblacks cracked their doughnut with a single off a missed 25 yarder – new head coach June Jones used his challenge to get a pass interference call out of the command centre after a long attempt to Brandon Banks. Gable punched in another and it was 17-1.
There were two more Castillo field goals in the opening 30 minutes offset by a Brett Maher triple and the Ticats went to the break up 23-7, easily their biggest lead of the season.
The Redblacks came out firing in the third. After forcing the Ticats two-and-out, a long punt return set up quarterback Trevor Harris on a short field and four plays later he found Diontae Spencer in the end zone. A two-point conversion made it a one score game.
That momentum was squashed – literally and figuratively – by Hamilton defensive tackle Davon Coleman, whose making quite the reputation for himself as a quarterback killer. He planted Harris into the turf, knocking him from the game and back up Drew Tate took over.
Masoli put together yet another solid drive, taking the Ticats into the red zone for the fifth time on the night. But again, Hamilton settled for three and a 26-15 lead.
Then it was the Redblacks turn to use the challenge wisely. Head coach Rick Campbell tossed the hanky after an Emanuel Davis interception, getting a pass interference call instead. Three plays later, Tate hit Josh Stangby with a 29-yard touchdown pass and the Ticats lead was just five early in the fourth (Ottawa missed the two-point try.)
Former Hamilton kicker Brett Maher missed his second field of the night but Ottawa got a single out of it.
The Ticats were playing their second game in five days – the Redblacks had nine days between contests – and the injuries took their toll with a couple of more Canadians going out. Several players were clearly playing hurt.
Rookie defensive tackle Justin Vaughn had a huge second down sack forcing the Redblacks to punt with just over three minutes to go. A long run by Gable gave them one first down, a gutsy throw to Banks another. But the Ticats had to punt and Ottawa took over at their 17-yard line with 1:26 to go.
The Redblacks converted one third down but Hamilton got another sack, this time from Nikita Whitlock then a big open field tackle from Richard Leonard and that was ball game.
The Ticats are now 2-0 under Jones and 2-8 overall. And very much in the mix in the East Division.