Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones says fear of a missed field goal return and a lack of confidence in kicker Lirim Hajrullahu were the reasons he elected to kick a punt single instead of attempt a 44-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter during the loss to the B.C. Lions on Saturday night.
With the Ticats leading by seven with just under a minute remaining in the game, Jones decided not to attempt a field goal that would have given the team a 10-point lead – all but sealing the win. Instead, Hajrullahu was instructed to deliberately punt the ball into the end zone for a rouge and an eight-point advantage.
“I would kick it for sure if we had been operating this year at a really high level,” Jones told TSN1150 on Monday. “But we’re operating at the 84 to 85 per cent level of making extra points and field goals and I’m thinking ‘do I trust our defence more then I trust six or seven o-lineman going down there to tackle Chris Rainey if we were to miss it?'”
The Ticats defence gave up 75-yards of real estate in five plays, including a 20-yard pass from Jon Jennings to Bryan Burnham with zeros on the clock. Burnham then caught the two-point conversion, just getting his toe in bounds according to a replay review that overturned the call on the field. That tied the game at 29 and sent it to overtime where the Lions ultimately prevailed 35-32.
“In retrospect, you wish you’d kicked it, made it and walk off with the win but at the same time I trusted our defence more to hold them,” Jones said. “It ended up not working out so it becomes a bad decision. That wasn’t the reason we lost the game, it was one of those four or five plays that probably contributed to losing in the game but that’s how this game is, man.”
Hajrullahu has been good on 33 of 40 field goal attempts this season (82.5 per cent) including 14 of 18 from between 40 and 49 yards and a perfect five-for-five beyond the 50. He has connected on 28 of 31 converts, a 90.3 per cent success. Overall, he has connected on 85.9 of his kicks this year.
Rainey has five kick return touchdowns in his five CFL seasons, including a punt return score earlier this year. There has been just one missed field goal return for a touchdown in 2018 and there were two in 2017.
Jones said the decision to punt was made after consultation with other members of the coaching staff, including assistant offensive coordinator Corey Grant and quality control coach Jarryd Baines. He did not mention assistant head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
“We talked about it. The field goal team was ready to go out but we were talking on the headsets. Corey has a headset, I have a headset, J.B. has a headset and we’re talking about it and we made the decision that we were going to punt it,” Jones said. “In retrospect, you wish you kick the field goal but the bottom line is that in no way did I think they can move the ball on our defence to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion.”
Jones also took issue with a pair of command centre decisions that went against the Ticats. The first involved a fumble in the fourth quarter that was recovered by Hamilton but was overturned after replay officials determined it was an incomplete pass. The second came on the two-point conversion that tied the game; on-field officials initially ruled that Burnham failed to get a foot in bounds but that too was reversed.
The CFL rulebook states that there must be “indisputable visual evidence” to overturn a call and Jones didn’t feel either play met that standard,
“If it’s inconclusive evidence, we always get that they won’t reverse it,” Jones said. “Well, they reversed both those and they were inconclusive.”