Publicly at least, the players and coaches of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats took responsibility for Saturday’s 43-35 overtime loss to the Toronto Argonauts – one that put a significant dent in their playoff chances.
But there were several instances of questionable officiating that dramatically impacted the outcome of the game as well as a disparity in the number and timing of penalty calls overall.
The Ticats were penalized 15 times for 135 yards while the Argonauts were flagged on just seven occasions for 105 yards. Hamilton took nine of the last 11 penalties, including a number with the game in the balance.
But more than the frequency, it was the nature of some of the calls that have the Ticats and their fans upset.
In the third quarter with the Ticats leading by seven, defensive back Courtney Stephen intercepted Argo quarterback Ricky Ray. Toronto challenged the play, looking for pass interference on S.J. Green by Demond Washington. While there was some incidental contact between Washington and Green, it did not appear to meet the usual standard of pass interference.
After much deliberation – TSN went to commercial and came back before the decision was made – replay official Jake Ireland ruled that there was pass interference and the drive continued. TSN analyst Glen Suitor, a former player, called it “the worst call I’ve seen all year.”
The Argos were forced to punt two plays later but the decision cost the Ticats more than 20 yards of field position and the momentum shift that would have come with the turnover.
Then with just over nine-and-a-half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Toronto running back Declan Cross fumbled the football and replays appear to show Ticat linebacker Simoni Lawrence batting the ball out of bounds.
There is some question as to whether the ball touched Cross again before it crossed the sideline but according to the CFL rulebook, that should not have mattered.
From Section 9, Article 3
When, on any play, the ball is fumbled Out of Bounds, or touches a player in the Field of Play and then goes Out of Bounds, it shall belong to the team that last touched the ball in the Field of Play.
A team shall be entitled to possession when a player of the team, while off the ground, knocks or bats the ball directly Out of Bounds, provided he lands in bounds.
Even if the ball made contact, Cross is clearly on the ground when it happens. Lawrence, meanwhile, is clearly off the ground when he makes contact. This is what referee Tom Vallesi announced in the stadium:
“The ruling on the field is a fumble last touched by Toronto going out of bounds.”
Because the play was not ruled a turnover on the field, the play was not reviewed by the command centre. The Ticats had used their only replay challenge in the first half on a clear pass interference call against C.J. Gable (they would ultimately score a field goal on that drive.)
After the fumble, Lawrence said he was given an explanation on the field.
“I batted the ball out, then I told that to the official, who told me it didn’t matter,” Lawrence said.
In addition to retaining possession at their own 40-yard line – and negating another momentum swing – the Argos kicked a field goal later in the drive that cut the lead to eight.
Finally, with under a minute to go in regulation and facing 3rd-and-17, Ray scrambled and hit Devier Posey for a 20 yard gain that kept the drive alive. But there are questions as to whether receiver S.J. Green was across the line of scrimmage as the play began.
“Looked offside, no flag,” play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert said at the time.
Unhappy Ticats fans took to social media with their own Zapruder-esque breakdowns of the play.
— Captain Power (@CAPTAIN_P0WER) October 1, 2017
This is the offside that you’re actually referring to! pic.twitter.com/ThzhM02DVN
— Kevin (@K_Doherty77) October 1, 2017
Hamilton head coach June Jones declined to blame the officiating for his team’s loss and neither did Lawerence.
“It’s frustrating but at the end of the day, that didn’t lose us the game.” Lawrence said. “They played better than us when they were supposed to.”