Here are eight storylines coming out of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24-23 win over the B.C. Lions on Friday night.
1. Sergio Castillo had plenty of help.
In addition to getting a pep talk from his girlfriend at halftime, kicker Sergio Castillo also got some words of encouragement from his holder Luke Tasker, who is also part of the team’s weekly Bible study group, before the game-winning kick with 10 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
“I said ‘trust in the Lord, he’s got us.’ We remind each other of that every game,” Tasker said.
Castillo talked about the importance of his faith in his post-game interview and while that type of God-first approach isn’t for everyone, for a person like Castillo it’s very relevant. Tasker said he and Castillo often remind each other on the sidelines of one of their favourite Bible verses, Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“For a guy like that, it’s important to talk about those things, to have it be real during the game,” Tasker said.
2. Andy Fantuz played a key role even though he wasn’t on the field.
An 11-year veteran, Fantuz has been serving as an assistant coach as he rehabs from ACL surgery. Though he’s close to a return, Fantuz was on the B.C. trip as a sort of informal offensive advisor to head coach June Jones – who continues to take an unusual amount of guidance from those around him – and provided some timely insight before Hamilton’s final drive.
“Andy was kind of talking to me saying ‘we’ve got more time than what you think.’ So we wanted to run the ball a few times, throw a couple of screens,” Jones said. “Andy has some really good thoughts on some of the things we’re doing. He’s a really smart guy and obviously he’s played up here forever. He and all the guys are helping me inch along on this thing.”
Alex Green ran the ball twice for almost 20 yards and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw a screen to Shamawd Chambers as the Ticats moved 42 yards in just over 90 seconds to set up the winning kick.
3. Without Tasker’s incredible catch, the Ticats lose.
With 44 seconds to play, and facing a third-and-six from their own 54, Masoli completed a pass to Tasker with B.C. defensive back Chandler Fenner draped all over him. It was an incredible catch that kept the drive alive.
“That’s a big boy catch. Luke does not get enough credit for the type of catches he makes for the athleticism that he has,” Masoli said afterward. “He might not be the flashiest or the fastest out there but he’s one of the most skilled receivers in the league.”
Even Tasker, not one inclined towards self-aggrandizement, acknowledged the degree of difficulty.
“It was a tough catch because the defender was in good position,” Tasker said. “Yeah, it was hard.”
4. June Jones didn’t see the kick that won the game.
Known for his taciturn approach to just about everything, even Jones acknowledged being nervous during the final drive and couldn’t bear to watch the game-winning field goal, moving back from the sidelines and into the Ticat bench.”I didn’t want to look at Sergio kick that ball. I just waited and looked at the ball going through, not at the play,” Jones said
“I didn’t want to look at Sergio kick that ball. I just waited and looked at the ball going through, not at the play,” Jones said afterward. “Never a doubt.”
5. Alex Green was spectacular.
Making his first career CFL start after being signed last Monday, Green ran for 140 yards on 13 carries and added two catches for another 15.
Green had hoped that two of his children, who live about five hours south of Vancouver in Portland, Oregon, would be able to make the trip to see him play but they couldn’t get passports in time. His parents, however, made it.
A former Green Bay Packers draft pick who played 29 games in the NFL, Green was released by the Ticats after training camp and figured his career was over.
“I’ve been cut three times in my career and the last time, I thought that was it. So when we get another chance, why not give it your all, everything you got?” he said afterward. “I wanted one more opportunity and today, I got it.”
The question: after a performance like that, can you take him out of the line up even if C.J. Gable, who missed the game with a shoulder injury, is ready to return?
6. Not all wins are created equal.
While the Labour Day victory and the road win over Ottawa were important, Friday’s defeat of the Lions has the potential to be season-altering. The Vancouver trip is an arduous one, what with the three-hour time change – the 8:10 p.m. local start time certainly adds to home-field advantage – and the fact that the Ticats haven’t won in Vancouver since 2011.
But Hamilton found a way to get it done against an equally desperate B.C. team.
“There are some wins that really kind of define you,” Masoli said afterwards.
7. The Ticats defence has been great for a month.
After giving up 39 and 37 points in the first two games under new defensive coordinator Phillip Lolley, the Ticats have surrendered an average of 23.8 points a game over their last four games, winning three of them.
Jones credited his defence after the win on Friday.
“We didn’t give up a whole lot of big plays, it was definitely bend but don’t break,” he said. “But the defence has been playing that way: they’re hustling, they’re playing hard, they’re playing as a team and they don’t get rattled.”
8. Hamilton is very much in this thing.
With Hamilton’s win combined with Ottawa’s loss Friday night in Winnipeg and Toronto’s win over Montreal on Saturday, the Ticats are currently third in the East Division, tied with the Alouettes with six points. Toronto leads with 12 points, Ottawa has 11.
Hamilton has two games in hand against Ottawa and one against Toronto and can still win the season series against both those teams. The Ticats have just two games remaining against the West Division (which is 22-5-1 against the East this year) while Toronto has four and Ottawa three. Hamilton also has two games remaining against Montreal, who look downright awful right now.
Saskatchewan currently holds the crossover spot with 12 points – Hamilton fans should be cheering for the Stamps today – but the Riders have four games left against the East Division. The Lions also have 12 points but Saskatchewan has won the season series on point differential and B.C. has two games left against the East.
With six weeks remaining and six teams chasing playoff spots in the East – if we include B.C. and Saskatchewan in the crossover – there are (obviously) lots of possible outcomes. But if the Ticats can win four of their last six, including next week against Toronto and the Argos were to lose four of their last five, Hamilton would make it. Ditto if the Redblacks lost their remaining four.
If the Ticats win five of six or run the table, those odds get better.
They don’t have any margin for error – and a loss next week to Toronto is catastrophic – but the post-season is not beyond the realm of possibility.
The players, who have never stopped believing they could make it, certainly haven’t changed their view.
“When I first came back, guys were talking about making the playoffs and that kind of shocked me because I thought we were out of it. But everybody was in good spirits and motivated and working hard,” Green said. “It kind of worked me up, like, damn, we got a shot at this.”