Ticats must face some hard truths of a lost season

“Well this sucks”

That was Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Shamawd Chambers in the wee hours of Saturday morning after his team had been eliminated from playoff contention with a one-two combination of gut punch losses.

First, the Ticats fell 28-25 to the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night, losing in agonizing fashion on the final play of the game after safety Courtney Stephen committed an extremely ill-advised pass interference penalty that set up the winning field goal. Even if Stephen allows the Calgary receiver to catch the ball and tackles him, the clock expires and the Ticats live to fight in overtime. Instead, another L.

Then, an even more improbable turn of events played out 2,500 km kilometres away in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Ottawa Redblacks, needing a win over the Roughriders to eliminate the Ticats, trailed by 12 points with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. They needed a fake punt, a roughing the passer call, two third down conversions and a pass interference penalty in the end zone to score two touchdowns and win the game. They did it, with four seconds to spare.

It was as if the juju of the 2017 Ticats had been temporarily exported to the prairies and been slathered on the Riders: anything that could go wrong, promptly did and with the worst possible consequences.

Stephen was despondent even before knowing that his miscue had helped snuff out any remaining bit of hope. A series of teammates came by his locker to console him – linebacker Simoni Lawrence, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, player turned coach Craig Butler – and when he was ready, he faced the media like a true professional.

“It was a broken play and when the ball went up… there really are no excuses, man. I let my team down and I didn’t make the play,” he said. “It’s a team game so that’s why they are coming to me. We go through a lot during the season so at different times we have to pick up different guys and that’s what my brothers are doing. At the end of the day, one play never really defines a game.”

That was certainly true on Friday. While the Ticats deserve plenty of credit for battling their hearts out against the CFL’s best team, there were three, four or five moments beyond Stephen’s miscue that allowed the Stampeders to emerge with the win. Those four or five moments have loomed large in 2017, over and over again.

The unfortunate turn of events means Hamilton will play three glorified exhibition games to end 2017, starting next Sunday in Montreal – the first of two meaningless contests between a pair of clubs with absolutely nothing left to play for.

The Oct. 27 contest in Ottawa will likely have an impact on the top of East Division standings as the Redblacks looks to finish ahead of Toronto and secure a first-round bye. So the Ticats can make life tough on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs – but will help their arch-rival in the process. Even revenge will be tainted in this season to forget.

And so it will be almost eight months before the Ticats play a game that matters in any real sense. Sure, there are things to be figured out and big questions to be answered – the fate of head coach June Jones and quarterback Zach Collaros chief among them – but more than enough time to analyze the solutions.

If there’s a (black and) gold lining to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ inglorious exit from playoff contention it’s this: the very real issues facing this team are now impossible to ignore. Had Jones and company been able to orchestrate a late-season miracle, doing what no team in history had ever done – make the playoffs after an 0-8 start – it would have been easy to declare the season at least qualified success.

Instead, the Ticats will play their final home game on Nov. 3 against an equally woeful Montreal squad in front of, if they’re lucky, a half-full stadium. They may have deserved a slightly better fate but, considering their start, not by much. There’s no avoiding the hard truths now.

Veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence took to Twitter on Saturday as well, far from his usual playful, effervescent self. His message was also simple but carried a larger meaning, one that Bob Young and the rest of the Ticats brass would do well to heed.

“Just let me learn from all this.”

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