One win could be chalked up as an aberration, a fluke produced by luck or circumstance or the mathematical improbability of going winless for an entire season. But two wins – particularly when the second is a hard-fought road effort on short rest – well, two wins is something different entirely.
When the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the Ottawa Redblacks 26-22 on Saturday night they didn’t just double their victory total; they also confirmed that things appear to be very much on track under new head coach June Jones.
“That was a real gutsy win, I’m just really proud of the guys. Everybody played great,” said Jones, who was a slightly similar version of his usually taciturn self after the game. “You could tell that the belief was different in the first half than it was last week, both offensively and defensively.”
Was it ever. The Ticats stormed out to a 23-7 halftime lead with what was easily their best 30 minutes of football on the season. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was at his dual-threat best, connecting on a long strike to Brandon Banks and putting up 73 rushing yards on the night.
“I scripted a couple of runs for him which I normally don’t like to do,” Jones said. “It was balanced. That was so awesome to see for those kids because they’ve worked so hard on the run game.”
Running back C.J. Gable had 11 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns – all season highs – and added three catches for another 28. Always inclined to find motivation in the sleights of others, Gable has been sporting a pretty sizeable chunk of granite for much of 2017.
“We’re not surprised. A lot of people don’t have faith in us but we don’t really care about that,” Gable said. “Nobody believes in us but that’s fine. We’ll just keep going.”
Playing their second contest in six days, Hamilton came into the game versus Ottawa with injury issues and then suffered a couple more for good measure. Canadian receiver Felix Faubert-Lussier went down in the second half, forcing Mitchell Baines – who’d had exactly two practices with the team – into the game. Rookie defensive end Justin Vaughn saw plenty of action as well as the Ticats cobbled together seven Canadian starters.
But Vaughn, a Hamilton native who was drafted by the team in May, delivered a key sack as his team tried to protect their late lead. It was the first of his CFL career.
“I’m going to remember my first pro sack forever. I had a celebration in mind but when it happened, I got so hyped I forgot everything,” said Vaughn. “Everyone has bought into what June is preaching and it’s a good feeling to be a part of this team.”
Vaughn was hardly the only defensive lineman to make a contribution, though Davon Coleman’s was more addition by subtraction. His third-quarter sack of Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris knocked him from the game with a shoulder injury, forcing back up Drew Tate to take over.
Coleman’s hit on B.C. Lion’s pivot Jonathon Jennings on July 25 also sent him to the sidelines – he would miss several weeks – so the first-year Ticat is developing a reputation as something of a quarterback killer.
“I’m not intentionally trying to put people out but I’m playing hard,” Coleman said. “I’m tackling aggressively and the way they fall… I’m pretty heavy. I feel a little bit bad about it but I’m not trying to be dirty.”
Like his teammates, Coleman heaped praise on Jones, who’s made changes big and small as he tries to reverse the Ticats’ fortunes. Hamilton is still last in the East and four points out of a playoff spot but they have games against Ottawa (two) and Toronto (one) and can still win the season series against any team in the division.
Up next, a home date against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday
“I think the guys are getting it, they know what’s at stake,” Jones said. “They know we have to win a couple on the road and this was one we thought we could win.”
They might have been the only ones who thought so. But like everything else with 2017 Ticats, that’s changing too.