What we learned from the Ticats’ thrilling last-second win over the Lions

After coming up short a week ago at home, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats went into B.C. Place Stadium where no one, well almost no one, gave them a chance of winning and came out with a 24-23 victory, their first win in Vancouver since 2011.

It is a win that could prove huge later this season as the once 0-8 Ticats continue their improbable push for a playoff spot.

Greast Mode

So the Greast Mode nickname won’t stick, but Alex Green might. In his CFL debut, Green bullied his way to 140 yards on just 13 carries (an amazing 10.8 yards per carry) and gave the Ticats offense a dimension it has been missing for a long time. I fully believe that C.J. Gable could have a similarly impressive game if given the chance, but it is hard not to be impressed with hat Green did. I was high on him during the pre-season and was a little bit surprised when he was cut following training camp. He has an amazing story that our own Drew Edwards chronicled earlier this week and will be a guy that fans will be cheering on whenever he is on the field. After a debut performance like that, we can probably expect to see a lot more of Greast Mode (still no? OK, I’ll try something else).

Re-SERG-ence

Redemption might have been a better title, but I can’t pun-ify that with his name, so…

When Sergio Castillo missed an early field goal, I chalked it up to just something that happens. But then he missed another and I was worried that perhaps he was heading towards that Brett Maher-like late-season slide that we saw last year from the now-Redblacks kicker. That was not to be as with 14 seconds left Castillo boomed a 49-yard field goal through the uprights for what would be the winning points and all was forgiven. Castillo has been money all season, and his four misses are still a league low for a kicker with 20 or more field goal attempts. Castillo has bounced around the CFL for a few years, but he has proven that he can be a reliable kicker and hopefully he has found a permanent home in Hamilton.

Hamilton’s resolve

This game kicked off at 11 p.m. Hamilton time, which is an absolutely ludicrous time for a game to kick off and yet this team stayed in it all the way and came away with the victory. It is the second time this season the Ticats have been dealt a crappy hand by the schedule makers, as their post-Labour Day game against the Redblacks took place with their opponents on nearly twice as much rest. But the Ticats thumbed their noses at these supposed hardships and won both games. This team has a lot of fight in it and victories like last night’s show that resolve.

No Rainey in the forecast

Chris Rainey is probably the most dangerous return man in the CFL, but the often unheralded coverage units did a spectacular job of hemming him in. Rainey had five punt returns for a total of 30 yards and three kickoff returns for just 17 yards. To keep a player as explosive as Rainey to under 50 total yards on eight total returns is impressive. Aaron Crawford led the team with three special teams tackles, but this was a total team effort.

Chambers comes alive

Shamawd Chambers has never really lived up to the immense hype that came with being the sixth overall pick in the 2012 CFL Draft. But in his first game as a Ticat, Chambers showed he can be a player. His stats weren’t gaudy, with six catches for 57 yards, but he was involved in the offense and flashed some of his trademark speed on a couple of catches to pick up extra yards. Many fans weren’t excited when the team announced the deal to bring Chambers to Hamilton last weekend, but after a solid performance in his first game in black and gold, I suspect some fans will change their tunes.

Mathews is the lynchpin to offensive line success

Ryker Mathews is 3-0 as a Hamilton Tiger-Cat.

I kid, of course, but the quintet of Mathews, Ryan Bomben, Mike Filer, Brandon Revenberg and Tony Washington seem to be the unit that produces the most success for the Ticats. Mathews missed last week’s game against Saskatchewan and the offensive line didn’t look as solid as it had the previous two weeks. Insert Mathews this week and the line gave Jeremiah Masoli some time, opened up holes for Alex Green and just generally played a very good game. Hamilton’s o-line has been a mishmash of players all season, but this unit finally looks set.

Playing to win

While it ultimately wasn’t successful, I love the call by the Ticats to try an onside kick after their first score of the game. I love when coaches play to win rather than play not to lose, and by going for the onside kick, June Jones was playing to win. It backfired in a big way — B.C. drove the field short field for a touchdown on the ensuing drive — but I still would not go back and change the decision. Fortune favours the bold and Jones was bold on that call.

Bends but doesn’t break

The Ticats defense wasn’t at its best all game, but it was when it mattered most. The Lions did accumulate 469 yards of offense, but when it came to the red zone, the Ticats defense stood tall. The Lions had four drives get into the red zone and came away with just one touchdown and three field goals. That’s a hard-nosed defense if I have ever seen one. Led, once again, by Larry Dean (six tackles) and Richard Leonard (four tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery), the Ticats defense did what they needed to do to leave beautiful British Columbia with a win.

Looking ahead

Don’t look now, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have won three of their last four and are incredibly still in this playoff race. The final six games are all playoff-like in their importance, and a .500 record, which would get them to six wins, is probably the bare minimum this team needs to still have a shot at post-season play. It is more likely that this team will have to win four games to be playing in mid-November.

The first team up is the still-winless-at-Tim-Hortons-Field Toronto Argonauts. The Argos are in a fight for first with the Ottawa Redblacks, and you know they would love to come into Hamilton and crush the playoff hopes of their bitterest rival. The winner of next week’s game will win the season series between the two teams and that could have major ramifications come season’s end.

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