The 2017 Hamilton Tiger-Cats season will be remembered for a lot of things including the sense of what might have been.
The Ticats demolished the Montreal Alouettes 43-16 on Sunday, putting together their most dominant performance of the season just a week after being eliminated from playoff contention. For more than a month, the team has been talking about the potential damage they could do in the post-season if they could only get there.
“We’re a really good football team right now,” said quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who threw for more than 300 yards for the third straight game. “I know we’re not in the playoffs but if we had gotten in, we really believed that we had a chance of taking the championship.”
After a sluggish start – Montreal actually led 7-3 in the early going – Hamilton unleashed both barrels at the Alouettes, sparked by a 65-yard punt return from Brandon Banks early in the second quarter. It was his first special teams touchdown since August and gives him 11 for his career, one behind the club record held by Earl Winfield.
“It got us going,” said Banks, who finished with 240 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. “The offence started a little slow and I think it got us going and gave us a little momentum.”
It was 26-7 by halftime and Hamilton extended the lead to 35 by early in the fourth, knocking Alouettes starter Darian Durant from the game and holding Montreal to under 300 yards of total offence – much of it in garbage time. While the Ticats started the season with an eight-game losing streak, the Alouettes have now lost nine in a row.
That eight-game losing streak, highlighted by a 60-1 humiliation at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders in August, seems like part of an alternative timeline now, like it happened to a different team. This incarnation of the Ticats played with more intensity with nothing left on the line than that team ever did.
“It’s fun because we get to play football still and the thing about us is that we competitive as hell,” said linebacker Simoni Lawrence before quoting his defensive coordinator. “What did [Phillip] Lolley tell us? ‘Don’t let circumstance dictate your character.’ That’s what we out here doing.”
With the win, the Ticats improve to 5-11 and still have a chance to match last season’s 7-11 mark. The team is also 5-3 under new head coach June Jones, who continues to make a strong case to be brought back next season.
“It’s tough to be motivated to play these types of games and the kids did show up,” Jones said. “I was hoping we could get a win like this to get some confidence, to get some real belief that you can beat anybody.”
Zach Collaros replaced Masoli halfway through the final quarter, completing two of three passes for 24 yards before giving way to Everett Golson with under three minutes to play. Masoli finished with 320 yards on 19 of 28 passing and two touchdowns. The Ticats did not turn the ball over and generated four takeaways.
Hamilton travels to Ottawa next Friday in a game that will mean something to the Redblacks, who are a point behind the Toronto Argonauts in the race for first place in the East and a first round bye. With the playoffs out of reach, Hamilton will at least get the chance to play the role of spoiler.
And wonder at what might have been.
“That’s our fault,” Masoli said. “We didn’t win enough games to get in and that’s it.”
Notes: The Alouettes honoured the 1977 Grey Cup winning team at halftime, including the team’s 92-year-old former head coach Marv Levy… the Ticat scratches were defensive back Emanuel Davis and running back Sean Thomas-Erlington… while Banks’ eight catches led the team, three others had six grabs… Mike Jones caught the first touchdown of his CFL career… Lawrence had two sacks while Larry Dean and Abdul Kanneh had seven tackles each.