It may not be the same as when Brock Lesnar ended The Streak at WrestleMania, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats finally conquering the Calgary Stampeders, by a score of 30-23, is still a pretty darn big deal.
Even bigger is that they did it in a very Calgary way, letting the defence and (especially) special teams keep them in the game long enough until the offence found its groove and took over in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t a pretty win, but what is the old saying again? They don’t ask how they just ask how many. That many is now four, as in four wins to one loss for the Ticats. They sit firmly in control in what is turning into an interesting race in the East Division, with both the Redblacks and Alouettes lurking behind them at 2-2.
The Ticats hit their F5 and pinned the Stamps, but can they follow that up like Brock did by capturing the championship? We’ll have to wait to find out that answer.
Here are some more thoughts.
Debates rage about the best everything these days, so let me start one right now: Brandon Banks is the best player in the CFL. Not best receiver, not best playmaker, just the best.
Feel free to send your hate tweets to @JoshSmith_82.
As a receiver he is first in yards, first in yards per game, first in catches, first in targets, first in yards after the catch and second in touchdowns. So the argument that he is the best receiver is there.
Now let’s add in the two missed field goal touchdowns and the one rushing touchdown, which gives him the most TDs in the league at six and we start to see his impact goes beyond just catching the football.
His impact was felt in numerous ways against the Stamps, catching nine balls for 86 yards and two scores, while also having that marvellous, game-changing missed field goal return at the end of the second quarter. On a night when the offence didn’t get going until very late, Brandon Banks did everything he could to will his team to victory.
Special teams stand out
Banks wasn’t the only special teamer to have himself a game. The Ticats needed a spark after the Stamps scored to make it 14-0 and they got it when newcomer Will Likely took the ensuing kickoff 110 yards for a touchdown to get the Ticats back in the game.
Special teams was almost universally tremendous against the Stamps, with Likely and Banks providing the most notably plays. But the team’s coverage units were fairly solid, and Lirim Hajrullahu was phenomenal, especially punting the football. Hajrullahu twice executed precision punts that pinned the Stamps inside their own 10-yard line, including with a minute left that made any Stamps comeback extremely unlikely.
One area that Hajrullahu struggled with a year ago was in the punting game. Whatever he has done to change the way he punts the football is clearly paying off.
Sack and strip attack
Hamilton’s defence, which was shredded a week ago against the Alouettes, was vastly improved against the Stampeders, especially in the run game. After surrendering over 200 yards to William Stanback, the thought was that the Stamps would feed the ball to their cadre of running backs, but that didn’t really happen as the Stamps finished Saturday’s game with just 27 rushing yards on nine rushing attempts. Contrast that to Nick Arbuckle, making just his second career start, throwing the ball 40 times and you have to wonder what the Stamps were thinking.
The Ticats also wracked up another four-sack performance, which brings their season total to a league-leading 18, more than half of their total from all of last year (they finished the season with 31 sacks in 2018). It is obvious that the team’s investment in the defensive line has paid off and then some.
Finally, forcing turnovers was a bit of an issue for the team a year ago, but they got some timely turnovers against Calgary with a pair of fumble recoveries. Both Delvin Breaux and Adrian Tracy had strips that were recovered by Breaux himself and Richard Leonard, respectively. The technique that both displayed is clearly something new defensive coordinator Mark Washington is coaching as both strips looked identical.
Offensive woes continue
Lost in some of the hoopla over the win is how poorly the offence executed for three quarters of the game. The Ticats had just 22 offensive yards in the first half. No, that is not a typo, and they ended up finishing with fewer than 200 total yards on the night. Outside of Brandon Banks, no one else really had a game to remember, as the rhythm was missing.
Now, the offence did do what they had to do in the fourth quarter and maybe that is something that will help Ticats fans sleep better at night, but it is clear that something just isn’t working offensively right now and the fix needs to be found soon.
It was evident that the injury to Chris Van Zeyl had a major impact on what the Ticats were able to do offensively. A starter last season, Kelvin Palmer, replaced Van Zeyl and he looked completely out of his element. Cordarro Law feasted on Palmer all game, picking up three sacks and making life miserable for Jeremiah Masoli constantly. The Ticats need Chris Van Zeyl to back to full health quickly.
In other injury news, Chris Frey went down with a non-contact leg injury early in the game while covering a missed field goal. Non-contact injuries are never good, and it looks like Frey will be out for the rest of the season.
Cariel Brooks also got nicked up in this one and missed a significant portion of the game. To compensate, it looked like the Ticats dropped Tunde Adeleke into the SAM linebacker spot, moved Rico Murray to halfback and brought Mike Daly in at safety. The move worked, as the Ticats defence didn’t miss a beat without last year’s East Division all-star boundary halfback in the lineup. The Breaux-Brooks-Adeleke-Leonard-Williams quintet is still the best option for the Ticats, but the team didn’t do too shabby without Brooks or Williams in there (Williams missed the game and was replaced by Jumal Rolle, a starter at field corner a year ago).
Sharp as Irons
The loss of Sean Thomas Erlington will be felt for some time, but the Ticats now get to see what they have in rookie Maleek Irons and the first impression was a pretty good one. Irons didn’t have any highlight plays, but he had a solid night picking up 61 yards on 14 carries. He had a couple of bulldozer-type runs, and you have to think that he will only get better the more opportunities he gets.
Heavyweight title fight
The Ticats are on their bye week, but their next game will be a doozy: July 26 at Tim Hortons Field against the currently 4-0 Winnipeg Blue Bombers (the Bombers play the Redblacks at IG Field this Friday). Bombers-Ticats was a popular Grey Cup pick at the start of the season, and neither team has given the people who predicted it reason to waver from their selection. They are the two top teams in their respective divisions, and probably the consensus best two teams in the league (with all do respect to the team in Edmonton). Next Friday cannot come soon enough.