With the 16-time world heavyweight champion in attendance, the Ticats moved one step closer to their 16th Grey Cup championship by pounding the B.C. Lions 48-8 in Sunday’s Eastern Semi-Final.
Early on it became evident that this was going to be Hamilton’s day. After special guest Ric Flair whipped the black-clad assembly of Ticats fans into a frenzy, the team took over. Their first drive ended with one of the strangest touchdowns you will ever see, followed by Adrian Tracy forcing and receiving a Travis Lulay fumble on B.C.’s first play from scrimmage, that was followed by another Ticats’ scoring drive and it was off to the races. It was 14-0 at the end of the first, 28-0 at halftime and the Ticats put up 44 before the Lions found their way onto the scoreboard.
It was a dominating performance by the black and gold in almost every aspect of the game. Offensively, the Ticats out-gained B.C. 441-266, with a majority of B.C.’s yards coming in the fourth quarter when the game was in hand. Defensively, the Ticats forced six total turnovers, one of which was a pick-6 (and another very nearly rumble-6 by Simoni Lawrence) and shut down B.C.’s offence early and often.
It’s the type of game you hope to see from the home side in a playoff matchup, especially when the other team travels across the country. The Ticats came to play against the Lions and now they get to play at least one more.
Jeremiah Masoli is the best thing going today… WOOOO!
Just days after being named the East MOP, Jeremiah Masoli put up an MOP performance in the biggest game he’s played in since he was named the starter 14 months ago. Masoli played three quarters in this one, completing 14 of 19 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Maybe the numbers most fans will be happy to see was the zero underneath interceptions. Masoli has been fantastic this season, a worthy pick for division MOP and possibly even league MOP, but some still question whether he can get it done in the big games. There are still some big games left on the docket, but Masoli passed his first test with flying colours.
Kid Speedy B
The biggest question that hovered over the Ticats going into the playoffs was how would they replace the production of Brandon Banks. Enter Bralon Addison. Addison was a mid-season addition who toiled on the practice roster until June Jones gave him a chance in Week 21 against Montreal. Addison put up some nice numbers in that one, but one wondered what we could really glean from that considering the circumstances. Wonder no more as Addison followed up his great Week 21 game with another sterling outing on Sunday. Addison finished the game as the team’s leading receiver, turning five catches into 124 yards, and his first of the game, a down-the-field beauty that netted the Ticats 38 yards, was the spark this team used to ignite the rest of their game. Replacing Brandon Banks was never going to be possible, but Bralon Addison is going to at least try.
Built for cold weather
In the early Kent Austin era, with C.J. Gable being used to his fullest, the threat of the run was always there. As Gable got nicked up more and more, and the Ticats shuffled through running backs more and more, Austin got away from running the ball and it is no surprise that the Ticats went from Grey Cup participants in 2013 and 2014 to 0-8 to start 2017. The elevation of June Jones as head coach saw a revival of the running game, and a dogged determination to use it even if the gains weren’t great. Against the Lions, the Ticats rushed 24 times for 114 yards, 17 of those carries and 62 of those yards coming from Alex Green. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers — just 4.8 YPC from the team and 3.6 YPC from Green — but Hamilton’s continued use of the run opens up things elsewhere. No longer are the Ticats a one-dimensional offence (they finished second in the league in passing and third in rushing) but a multi-faceted one where they can beat you with either the run or the pass.
Unsung heroes always emerge come playoff time
While this won’t live in lore like, say, Kienan LaFrance exploding in the 2016 Eastern Final for Ottawa, but playoff time can usually lead to some unsung heroes finding ways to make big plays and for the Ticats on Sunday that unsung hero was Frankie Williams. Williams spent most of his rookie season playing special teams, both returning kicks and covering them. He was very good at both, but he was given a chance to play significant time on defence against the Lions and boy did he make the most of it. Williams had six total tackles against B.C., but when the moment came for him to make his mark he did just that by picking off what ended up being Travis Lulay’s final pass of the game and taking it to the house. The score gave the Ticats a 37-0 lead, so it wasn’t a game-changing pick-6 or anything, but it was the type of play that gets you more playing time in the future.
Winning in the trenches
One of the keys for the Ticats’ offensive line was keeping guys like Odell Willis, Shawn Lemon, Davon Coleman and Solomon Elimimian off Jeremiah Masoli. Mission: accomplished. Willis and Lemon were complete non-factors, with Willis only getting on the stat sheet thanks to a 42-yard kickoff he was asked to do after Ty Long got hurt earlier in the game, and Lemon not finding the stat sheet at all; Coleman, who made a lot of noise when these two teams met earlier in the year (Coleman was traded to B.C. during training camp), but wasn’t much of a factor either, registering four tackles and one sack; and Elimimian, playing in his first game in four months, had five tackles, but wasn’t his regular impact self. Hamilton’s offensive line has dealt with some changes over the course of the season, mostly at left tackle, but on Sunday they were spectacular and a main reason why the Ticats have at least one more game left in their season.
Off the field for good
“Get off the field, Wally!” is a common refrain amongst CFL fans, directed at the GOAT, Wally Buono. With the Lions’ loss to the Ticats, Buono is now off the field for good, his incredible CFL career coming to an end in a way it probably shouldn’t. But this loss won’t be what people remember about Wally. The Grey Cup wins in both Calgary and B.C., the all-time win record for a CFL coach and the numerous great players (especially quarterbacks) that Buono brought to the CFL. Thank you, Wally, for leaving an indelible mark on the league. The CFL is better for having had Wally Buono in it and it won’t be the same without him.
Hamilton’s run continues for at least one more week as they get one last crack at the Ottawa Redblacks, this time with a Grey Cup berth on the line in next Sunday’s Eastern Final.
As everyone probably already knows, the Redblacks went 3-0 against the Ticats. Ottawa has seemingly had Hamilton’s number, not just this season but for the last few seasons. Ottawa has beaten the Ticats in their last four meetings, and have won nine of the last 11 meetings between the two clubs, including the 2015 Eastern Final which I am sure we are going to hear about a lot over the next week.
The Hamilton-Ottawa rivalry has heated up over the last few years, and while it’s not at Hamilton-Toronto levels, it’s close. But it has been a very one-sided rivalry and the only way to change that for the Ticats is to go into TD Place and hand the Redblacks their most heartbreaking home loss in franchise history. If the Ticats are able to do that, they will style and profile their way to Edmonton and look to join Ric Flair as 16-time champions.