A swan songs go, this one was just about right.
The game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes didn’t mean much but allowed Ticat fans to both celebrate better days while also offering a sliver of hope for next season. And there was plenty of history to be made.
The Ticats won 33-0 in front of, charitably, a half-full Tim Hortons Field. But game featured some vintage performances from players with uncertain futures, guys who have starred for this team, in some cases, for half-a-decade.
Receiver Luke Tasker caught seven balls to break the team record for receptions in the season (he finished with 104) while also hauling in a touchdown. Brandon Banks caught seven balls for 76 yards receiving to give Hamilton three players with at least 1,000 yards the first time in team history.
It was the first Ticat shutout since 1974 and the first time the Alouettes have posted a doughnut since 1997.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for 318 yards and one touchdown without an interception, his fourth straight game over 300 yards. He put an exclamation point on his 2017 with a 58-yard run for a score in the fourth.
Tasker, Banks and Masoli are all are set to be free agents in February along with other stalwarts like defensive tackle Ted Laurent and safety Courtney Stephen (who had an interception.) The future of former starting quarterback Zach Collaros is also very much in doubt.
Those players – along with linebacker Simoni Lawrence and offensive lineman Mike Filer –formed the nucleus that led the Ticats to four straight playoff appearances and two Grey Cup games before this year’s backslide. Friday night was, in some respects, an echo of those better days.
The Ticats off-season will feature plenty of questions, from the front office on down, but there are some pieces some place. Defensive back Richard Leonard had two interceptions against Montreal to further his case for CFL Most Outstanding Rookie – he’s now second in the league with seven – while receiver Jalen Saunders registered 97 yards. Defensive end Adrian Tracy had two sacks and he’s under contract in 2018, too.
Montreal, meanwhile, looked very much like a team thinking about heading home for the winter. Rookie quarterback Matt Shiltz, making his first career start, threw for just 96 yards and three picks. He was replaced late in the fourth by Antonio Pipkin.
Video replay – which has been an issue in Hamilton for all the wrong reasons the last few seasons – was also a storyline. The league ran a “test pilot” on Friday that displayed the replay official’s screen in Toronto on the video board at Tim Hortons Field during reviews. That means fans saw, in real time, what the command centre is reviewing.
Not that it helped: after a review in the first quarter went against the home side, fans booed lustily. Of course they did.
This Hamilton Tiger-Cats season has been one of the most unusual in recent history – so disappointing and yet with moments of genuine excitement and hope. In that regard, Friday night was perfect: everything it could have been, and wasn’t, everything it might be but – at least for now – isn’t.