West Coast state of mind: Ticats down Lions 24-23

Her name is Adriana Cavazos and she may very well have saved the Ticats season.

After missing two field goals in the opening 30 minutes against the B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker Sergio Castillo took a phone call from his girlfriend back in Texas at halftime, then nailed a 50-yarder with just 10 seconds to go to give the Ticats an improbable, spectacular 24-23 win over the B.C. Lions on Friday night.

“She’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ Gave me a little pep talk,” Castillo said after the game. “She’s a soccer coach. The coach came out of her. I’m very blessed and fortunate to have her in my life.”

The Ticats have now won three of four since June Jones took over as head coach to improve to 3-9 on the season and are right back in the East Division playoff race.

Castillo got plenty of help. Newcomer Alex Green, filling in for the injured C.J. Gable, ran for 140 yards on 13 carries while quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns for the Ticats. The defence played bend-but-don’t break all night and generated the game’s only turnover.

The Ticats opened the scoring on their second possession, Masoli running the option play with Green for a 20-yard gain, then connecting with Brandon Banks on a pretty throw-and-catch for the touchdown.

Hamilton tried an onside kick immediately after the score and had a shot at the loose ball but the Lions recovered and took advantage of the field position. Six plays after converting on second-and-18, Jennings ran it in from the two yard line out then hit Bryan Burnham on the two-point conversion and an 8-7 lead.

Castillo missed from 47 yards out, clanging the ball off the upright, then missed again after the Ticats got a turnover off a Richard Leonard strip and fumble recovery. Still, the game was tied 8-8 midway through the second.

After the Lions took a three-point lead off a Ty Long field goal, the Ticats looked to be in scoring range when Masoli hit Banks with a long gain down the sideline. The Lions challenged the completion and won – the command centre ruled the nose of the ball hit the ground – while the Ticats lost their challenge for pass interference.

Combined with the timeout they took earlier in the second, the Ticats were now out of timeouts and challenges.

Hamilton got a break at the end of the half as referee Dave Foxcroft elected to put a second back on the clock and give the visitors one more play. Castillo banged it through from 54-yards – and did a little fist pump – and the teams were tied at 11 after 30 minutes.

After the Lions kicked a field goal on the opening possession of the third, Masoli orchestrated a nice drive highlighted by some strong running from Green and a long completion to Luke Tasker, who absorbed a hard hit to make the play. Masoli connected with Tasker again for the major and a four-point advantage.

The Lions drove the field again only to have the Ticats stiffen near the goal-line and force another field goal, this time from 10-yards out. Hamilton responded with another good drive and a field goal of their own to stretch the lead back to four.

After Long connected again with six-and-a-half to play, B.C. forced Hamilton two-and-out then used a long completion to Burnham and a solid run from Jeremiah Johnson to set up the go-ahead points.

But Masoli ran the two-minute drill to perfection and set up Castillo’s heroics. The eight-play drive included a nine-yard catch from Shamawd Chambers – he had six grabs in his first game with Hamilton – a 15-yard run from Green and an unbelievable contested catch from Tasker on third down with the game on the line.

The Lions called timeout in an attempt to ice Castillo but the kick was good and Hamilton had their first win in Vancouver since 2011.

The Ticats got some help earlier Friday when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Ottawa Redblacks. Hamilton is now tied for third in the East with six points, four behind the Toronto Argonauts who host the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday. The Ticats host Toronto next week in a crucial match up that will see the winner take the season series.

Castillo says Jones has the team believing they can get to the playoffs.

“As soon as he enters the room you can feel his presence,” said Castillo. “He brings that hope. At the end of the day that’s all you can ask for.”