Ticats avoid the trap by beating Argos

With an upcoming home-and-home set against the Ottawa Redblacks that will likely decide who finishes first in the East on the horizon, would it have been a surprise if the Ticats came out flat against the already-out-of-the-playoffs Argos? Not really.

But there would be no Admiral Akbar moment for the Ticats as they used a dominant third quarter to easily dispatch of the provincial rivals in a 34-20 win at BMO Field on Friday night.

The win moves the Ticats to 8-7, and coupled with Ottawa’s loss in Edmonton Saturday, puts the Tabbies in a first-place tie with the Redblacks heading into the first of two back-to-back games between the two teams.

While it seemed like Ottawa may have been looking ahead to the Ticats, the same cannot be said about Hamilton. They were singularly focused on beating the Argos and beat them they did. After the two teams matched scores on their first two respective drives, the Ticats’ defence stepped up in the second and third quarters, which allowed Hamilton’s offence to find its rhythm, putting up 21 consecutive points and cruise to victory.

The Argos didn’t go quietly into the night, but the Ticats proved they are just the better team right now. Argos fans can take solace in their 2017 Grey Cup championship, but with the way the Ticats are playing right now, that trophy may be making its way back down the QEW sooner than later.

Luke Tasker, touchdown maker

OK, so the above rhyme isn’t great (or even really a rhyme at all), but Luke Tasker pulled the old Cris Carter (all he does is catch touchdowns) with an incredible three TDs on four catches. With so many receivers down — do we dare count them? — it was no surprise to see Jeremiah Masoli lean heavily on the two guys he has had for most of the season (more on the second guy in a bit), and Luke Tasker came up big.

As one of the few players remaining from the early Kent Austin Ticats who went to two straight Grey Cups, you can tell that Tasker is determined to finally cross the last goal off his wish list. Tasker is playing some of the best football of his career right now.

Pinball Banks

Not to steal a nickname from one of the greatest to ever play in the CFL, but for one night it was Brandon Banks who earned the nickname “Pinball” after his second-quarter touchdown saw him bounce right off the goalpost. It was quite the sight to behold and another one of those “only in the CFL” moments.

But Banks’ pin-balling aside, Speedy B once again showed why he deserves to be in the MOP conversation. He caught eight passes for 178 yards, adding to his impressive receiving totals, and found the end zone for the 10th time this year, which ties him for the league lead in receiving scores. He sits in second in both yards and catches.

Banks’ ninth 100-yard performance of the year breaks the Ticats’ single-season record set by Tony Champion in 1989 when Champion was the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player. Banks is in good company and now has his name in the record books.

You could make the argument that Brandon Banks is the league’s best receiver right now, and may be the only player in the East who can stop Jeremiah Masoli from taking home the division’s MOP nomination.

Speaking of Masoli…

Masoli pads his MOP résumé

Jeremiah Masoli did what Jeremiah Masoli does on Friday night. Another 300-yard game? Check. Another multi-touchdown game? Check. Another road win? Check. It was classic Masoli. Yes, he threw two interceptions, but one came on a tipped ball and the other came in the fourth quarter with the Ticats up three scores and looking to put the game away. Those two picks were his first in three weeks and he has now thrown 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions since Labour Day, almost identical to his post-Labour-Day run a year ago.

Masoli continues to improve over the season’s second half, which is incredible considering how well he played at the beginning of the year. But it is impossible to say he hasn’t played better since the annual end-of-summer Classic. Masoli is a legit MOP candidate, not just for the East nod, but to win the award. The next three weeks will go a long way in figuring out if Masoli will become the first Tiger-Cat to win the league’s top award since 1999. If he continues playing the way he has the last six weeks, don’t be surprised if he does.

The D-line makes another statement

What’s the old saying, once is an accident, but twice is a trend? Well, for the second game in a row Hamilton’s defensive line made life miserable for the opposing quarterback. The Ticats picked up three sacks in this game, all from the defensive line as Justin Capicciotti, Julian Howsare and Nikita Whitlock all took down Argos QB James Franklin.

But it isn’t just the sacks; the pressure the line got, forcing Franklin to scramble or throw the ball sooner than he would have liked, was a welcome change from earlier in the season. Ted Laurent might have only notched one tackle in the game, but he was in Franklin’s face a lot, forcing errant throws and just making life difficult for him.

To call the D-line a weak link would be unfair, but with how great the secondary has been, and with arguably the best linebacking trio in the league once again, the line was being focused on and perhaps being unfairly judged. But if the last two games are any indication, the line is doing more than its part to elevate the defence into the league’s best.

Air B and B

Hamilton’s secondary was its regular stellar self, forcing the opposing quarterback to complete under 60 per cent of his passes, while mostly keeping the stable of Argos receivers at bay (save for S.J. Green, who seems to always have a big game against the Ticats). But it was two players, in particular, the battery mates who patrol the boundary side of the field for the No-Fly Zone, that deserve specific praise.

Delvin Breaux is the league’s best cover corner. Full stop. No debate. Don’t @ me. And while most quarterbacks don’t try and test him, James Franklin did and it did not go well. Breaux made one of his signature leaping pass knockdowns and had two tackles in the game, one for a loss, and forced a James Franklin fumble that he himself recovered and ran for 21 yards. Breaux doesn’t have stats — he has just 22 tackles in 13 games this season — but he should still be considered a legit contender for defensive MOP.

Cariel Brooks, Breaux’s partner-in-crime on the boundary side of the field, made one of the most athletic interceptions I have ever seen in this game. Brooks came out of nowhere like an RKO to snag a James Franklin pass out of the air. Brooks doesn’t get the headlines, but he has quietly put together a very solid campaign and is an important piece of Hamilton’s excellent secondary.

Offensive line struggles

For as well rounded as Hamilton’s win was, I didn’t think the offensive line played particularly well. Holes for John White were almost non-existent, with the same guy who picked up 107 yards against B.C. totalling just 52 on 13 carries against the Argos. A lot of that had to do with White getting hit at or before the line of scrimmage any time he touched the ball.

The blocking in the passing game wasn’t much better, as an Argos team that sits dead last in the league in sacks notched two against the Ticats. And outside the sacks, it felt like Jeremiah Masoli was under pressure a fair bit.

Now, it wasn’t all bad as on some plays Masoli did seem to have a lot of time to go through his reads, but for a line that played so well against the Lions, it was disappointing to see them play much worse against a far less talented front four.

Mr. Consistently Inconsistent is inconsistent yet again

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Lirim Hajullahu missed a kick (this time an extra point) and booted a knuckleball kickoff out of bounds. I believe that is the sixth straight game (maybe seventh) in which Hajrullahu has been penalized for an illegal kick. It’s just… I don’t even know what to say anymore. Honestly.

Because for every ball that wobbles out of bounds when it shouldn’t, Hajrullahu buries a field goal from long distance. He didn’t attempt anything beyond 50 in this one, but he did nail a 45-yarder into the wind. Like, how is this even possible? For a guy who has trouble kicking the ball off, how can he nail these long field goals with relative ease? It makes no sense. It’s always an adventure whenever No. 70 takes the field and Friday night at BMO Field was no exception.

Looking ahead

With the Argos now swept in the rearview mirror, it is now time to finally get amped for the start of what will be the games that decide if Hamilton hosts the East Semi-Final or the East Final. It’s Ottawa and Hamilton at TD Place next Friday night.

Hamilton actually has a pretty good track record in Ottawa, with the Ticats posting a respectable 3-2 record all-time at TD Place (not including playoffs) and with only one loss coming by more than single digits.

When looking at the schedule to start the year these two games always felt like they would be important, we just didn’t know how important until recently. For the Ticats, the goal is simple: win the next two games and likely get home-field advantage in the East. Lose one or, Asgard forbid, both and prepare for the East Semi before hopefully returning to Ottawa for round four with the Redblacks.

Ottawa’s loss to Edmonton was nice but doesn’t really do much to change the dynamic in this home-and-home series. A split puts the Redblacks back in charge, with a small glimmer of hope that the Ticats could catch them. But that’s a concern for future Hamilton. Currently, Hamilton knows what’s ahead of them and what they need to do: win and the road to the Grey Cup in the East goes through the Hammer.

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