Manziel sparks Ticat comeback in final pre-season game

Johnny Manziel saved the Ticats.

That’s an overstatement, to be sure, but one that stays in line with the general tone of the Manziel coverage so far this season as the Hamilton quarterback has attracted intense media scrutiny from both sides of the border.

But Manziel certainly played well in Hamilton’s 30-15 win over the Alouettes in their final exhibition game as he helped the Ticats score 30 straight points in the come-from-behind win.

“I gave him a little bit more out there but he’s still a little bit rusty. He’s a competitor, he knows what’s going on, he sees what’s going on. Bring able to execute it quickly is still not there for him,” head coach June Jones said. “Johnny did what he does, he made some plays.”

It was, however, an inauspicious start for the Ticats as Montreal took an early 14-0 lead. And while it’s certainly true that Hamilton’s line up featured largely back ups – quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, receivers Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker as well as linebacker Simoni Lawrence all sat out – the team still struggled mightily against a Montreal squad that finished 3-15 last season.

Bryant Moniz started for the Ticats at quarterback and was mostly terrible, throwing for 17 yards on three of seven passing with an interception. Hamilton failed to register a first down in the first quarter and had net minus-four yards of offence.

“We were really not doing things well when Byrant was in there so he didn’t have the luxury of going until we were able to correct some stuff,” Jones said. “I think we had the fog of war for a lot of the young kids, had some simple mental mistakes that killed some drives.”

The Hamilton defence, meanwhile surrendered 14 points to a Montreal offence that featured plenty of starters in the early going, including presumptive starting quarterback Drew Willy who threw for 105 yards on 10 of 18 of passing. The Alouettes also missed two field goals.

But Manziel came into the game mid-way through the second quarter and promptly led the Ticats on their first scoring drive, taking advantage of a muffed punt that was recovered by rookie Nick Parisotto and gave the offence good field position.

Manziel went two for two on his opening drive and connected with Alex Green on a three-yard touchdown pass on third down to cut the Alouette lead in half. His presence seemed to energize both the offence and the defence, who played much better after he came into the game.

“It was good. It opened up, I felt like I could have thrown it a second earlier but at the end of the day, if the ball crosses the goal line, it counts. I got it done, it felt good and hopefully, that’s the first of many,” Manziel said afterwards.

But Manziel also fired up the Alouettes. Linebacker Henoc Muamba took a 15-yard penalty after shoving Manziel as he ran out of bounds and defensive end Jamaal Westerman got into the quarterback’s face as he tried to return to the field.

Manziel returned for the third quarter and led the Ticats on back-to-back scoring drives, each leading to Lirim Hajrullahu field goals. The Ticats got a pick-six from Joel Ross and more or less dominated the second half – an encouraging sign after a sloppy performance in the first pre-season loss to Toronto.

Manziel finished with 12 of 20 passing for 88 yards and a touchdown and while his longest completion was just 13 yards, he took more shots down the field in his second pre-season game. He also ran four times for 19 yards and showed much of the athleticism that has excited the Hamilton coaching staff.

“Progress. Any time I’m getting in and getting reps and getting a chance to live reps like they were today, it’s a positive thing. “It’s pre-season and it doesn’t count but it gives us the opportunity to get better every rep and see some things that I haven’t seen,” Manziel said. “By no means is it perfect or close to perfect but there’s some flashes, some things I know and feel comfortable with.

“This is a very competitive game, a game I feel like I can play in, it fits my skillset. With the wider field, there is the ability to extend a couple of these plays.”

Beyond Manziel, there were a couple of other noteworthy performances for the Ticats. Defensive tackle Jason Neill had a strong game in the middle as he looks to earn a roster spot with three tackles and a sack while Canadian Mike Daly had six tackles, including two on special teams, as he works his way back from shoulder surgery.

The injury news wasn’t great, however. Canadian defensive tackle Justin Vaughn was hit hard while blocking on the opening kickoff and did not return while Don Unamba, in the mix for the starting SAM spot, took a knee to the head in the first half.

The Ticats now have until 10 a.m. on Sunday to make their final roster cuts before opening the season next Friday against the Calgary Stampeders.

Notes: Jones offered an update on the future of quarterback Vernon Adams, after saying he was about to be traded on Thursday but for whom a deal has yet to be consummated. “We’ve talked to a couple teams about a trade and kind of put in the hands of his agent and they’re going back and forth as that happens,” Jones said. “I would anticipate that something will happen here soon.”

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