What we learned in the Ticats’ ugly 27-19 loss to the Riders

Let’s not sugarcoat this at all: this game was ugly. I’m talking seeing-your-grandmother-naked ugly.

The Riders escaped from Tim Hortons Field with a 27-19 win in a game that probably had about a half dozen decent drives combined between the two offenses, but will mostly be remember for some baffling coaching decisions inside the red zone.

The Ticats now drop to 2-9 and that slim margin for error to make the playoffs just became slimmer.

The last play

We have to start at the end where the Ticats had the ball at the Saskatchewan one-yard line with five seconds left down by eight. They had one play to try to extend the game, but Jeremiah Masoli’s pass fell incomplete and the Ticats lost. Talking with Ticats fans after the game, it was clear that everyone rightfully thought the ball should have been pounded in by either Masoli himself or C.J. Gable. But instead June Jones opted to spread them out and throw it.

I have been trying to figure out why Jones would do that and the only thing I can come up with is that throwing the ball gave them four or five options to convert as opposed to one if they ran it. I still disagree with the decision, though. It wasn’t the only instance of a coach outthinking himself in the red zone — Saskatchewan running two plays inside the five with Vernon Adams early in the game was bafflingly stupid — but the call that could have kept the game going (if they would have also converted their two-point try) is going to get more scrutiny.

The challenge

Hamilton had a bunch of miscues and missed opportunities in this one (more on that later), but one that was out of their control and may have gone the wrong way was when June Jones challenged illegal contact after a Jeremiah Masoli threw an interception to Ed Gainey in the end zone. The pick snuffed out a promising Ticats drive that was going to net the team at least three points, which would have come in handy late in the game.

Unfortunately for me, the replay was not shown at Tim Hortons Field, so I can only go off secondhand information as to if the call was right or not and from the sounds of it, it was not. None other than our own Steve Milton believes the command centre blew another one.

The spit

Demond Washington, who was having a horrible game to begin with, got ejected for spitting on a Saskatchewan player. Reports first indicated it was Naaman Roosevelt, and then it came out that it was Derek Dennis; but the who is immaterial as you simply cannot spit on an opposing player. That is some grade-school-level garbage and is indefensible. Expect Washington to be fined and rightfully so.

The running game

The numbers weren’t spectacular from the tailback, but the Ticats seem to be focused more on running the football under June Jones than they ever were under Kent Austin. In total, the Ticats ran the ball 16 times for 88 yards, and while the biggest chunk of those yards came from the quarterback, I still like that the running game is back to being a cog, let alone an important one, in the offense.

I also like that the team didn’t abandon the run when the Riders took a big lead or when getting yards was tough. C.J. Gable had just a 3.7 yards-per-carry average, but that didn’t stop them from trying to pound the rock. Except on the last play, but we have already gone over that.

The defense

Many will see 27 points and think the defense didn’t do its job, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This defense kept this team in the game. The Riders had three first downs in the second half and they all came on the same drive. The Riders went two-and-out on eight of their last nine drives including on their final six drives. That is the defense keeping a team in a game.

The Don

Hamilton has run guys through the secondary all year for various reasons, but one guy who seems to have found a niche for himself is Don Unamba. The former Alouette and Blue Bomber had easily his best game as a Ticat as the boundary corner. He made a huge play near the end of game, playing tight coverage on Naaman Roosevelt and knocking the pass down. Chris Jones would challenge for illegal contact and would lose because it was a perfectly defended play by Unamba.

Jones’ hands

How far Mike Jones has fallen over the course of the season is stunning. He started the season very well, putting up numbers that would have ranked among the league’s elite wide-side receivers and then the issues with drops and fumbles started to occur. He had another fumble in this game early and that was pretty much it for him for the night. These have been problems for weeks and players are noticing. Enter Spencer Watt, the man who was released this spring so Jones could have a larger role.

The MOP kicker

Sergio Castillo was fantastic yet again, going a perfect four-for-four on field goals again and averaging 52.3 yards per punt, a few of them wind-aided. Castillo has bene Hamilton’s most consistent player and while he doesn’t have the volume of some of the league’s other top kickers, he has the highest success rate for any kicker with more than 20 attempts. He has missed just twice on the year and when the time comes to fill out an awards ballot, Castillo is going to get serious consideration as the team’s most outstanding player.

No boos for O’sh

Kudos to Ticats fans for not booing Mike O’Shea when he was introduced for his Hall of Fame induction at halftime. It was smart of the Ticats to mention is rookie of the year award, that he won with the Ticats, at the end of his introduction, but I was expecting O’Shea to receive some boos and he didn’t, at least as far as I could hear.

Looking ahead

As far as losses go for a team that desperately needs wins, this one wasn’t so bad. Losing to a West team is infinitely better than dropping one to an eastern squad, but this just means the Ticats are walking on a razor’s edge with how many more games they can drop before this is all over.

In the next four weeks, the Ticats will face three West opponents and only one of those games is at home (and that one is against Calgary), so this loss does hurt their chances.

Next up is the B.C. Lions in a very late start in Vancouver next Friday. That game won’t kickoff until 11pm Hamilton time, which is going to really mess with the players’ internal clocks. The Lions, who many thought would contend for first in the West, are in a dog fight with the Riders and Esks for the final two playoff spots (one of which will be a crossover into the East) and they need all the wins they can get. This is going to be a tough one for the Ticats to pull out, but if they can find a way, all the talk will go back to this team doing the unthinkable and rebounding from an 0-8 start.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.