Though it will likely disappoint the I-want-to-see-Johnny crowd, Jeremiah Masoli just put a stranglehold on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats starting quarterback job.
Not that there was much doubt before, mind you.
Head coach June Jones has been emphatic that Masoli was his guy, despite whatever headline-garnering superlatives he might be willing to drop on Johnny Manziel. Jones, prone to hyperbole in that harmless, grandpa-caught-a-fish-this-big kinda way, is able to praise Manziel without undoing the team’s core belief in QB1 because, well, their faith in him is essentially unshakeable.
And performances like the one Masoli dropped on the Edmonton Eskimos in a 38-21 win on Friday night are a perfect example as to why.
His stat line is gaudy enough – 332 yards, a 65 per cent completion percentage, three touchdowns and interception that wasn’t really his fault – but it was how he did it and where he did it and who he did it against that made it all the more impressive. The Eskimos are a good team, one of the best in the West, and Masoli dismantled them, finding open receivers with regularity and using his escapability only when necessary to make things happen.
There were lots of other things to like about the win as well. The offensive line, still utilizing Landon Rice as a gargantuan blocking tight end for much of the night, limited the Eskimos to just a single sack while busting open holes for Canadian running back Mercer Timmis, whose breakout game just gave the Ticats a Slinky’s worth of ratio flexibility.
The defence had its wobbles in the early going – again – but the miscommunication between new field corner Jumal Rolle and field half Richard Leonard that led to an early touchdown felt like the byproduct of the lineup shuffle caused by the arrival of Delvin Breaux. The entire unit settled in nicely by the second half and started to resemble the aggressive, swashbuckling unit that coordinator Jerry Glanville has been promising.
Breaux’s arrival certainly helped. His dominating presence isn’t reflected on the Ticat stat sheet – he’s credited with a single tackle and nothing more – largely because Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly essentially avoided throwing in his general direction all night. Superstar receiver Derel Walker had six catches for 56 yards – a stat line that’s a win for the opposition – and had to move around the field and away from Breaux to get it.
There were other things to like. Luke Tasker had five catches on five targets and produced two touchdowns. And while Brandon Banks’ 117 receiving yards came in handy, it was his willingness to run down the field in third gear (so Tasker could keep pace) and throw a smashmouth block on defender Aaron Grymes that provided a sterling example of why coaches and teammates love Speedy B. Fellow mighty mite Jalen Saunders showed up in time to finish the job, coming from across the field to get in a lick that left two Eskimos sprawled on the field beside him and Tasker in the end zone.
The Ticat team that lost in Calgary felt a little discombobulated, a slightly out of sorts version of their 2017 selves – likely a byproduct of the changes brought on by a new season. After a week on the road, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and eating hotel food, showing up in Edmonton to play lacklustre football would have been somewhat understandable. Instead, the Ticats appear to have found themselves again, though they’d likely disagree with the idea anything was ever lost.
But the doubters are quiet, for now at least. Masoli has been steadfast in his approach and messaging on all things Manziel from day one, seemingly confident that going about his business in the way he always had would continue to produce the results. If he heard the noise or read the headlines, he never showed it and likely never will. So far, so good – and for the foreseeable future.