Before the game, all the talk was about Dane Evans, Cody Fajardo and if the Ticats could overcome their litany of injuries.

After the game, it was all about the refs.

The calls piled up, to the tune of 30 penalties, and the list of bad calls grew longer — I’m not sure how Shaq Evans gets called for an illegal block downfield — but it was the no-call, or the no-see, that has many Ticats fans enraged.

With 44 seconds left and the Riders at Hamilton’s five in a second-and-goal situation down three, Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer sees something he doesn’t like defensively and starts sprinting down the field calling timeout. The refs, oblivious to Steinauer, fail to see it and Cody Fajardo scampers in for the game-winning touchdown.

*expletive emoji*

How the refs can miss a head coach running down the sidelines, and then on the field, screaming timeout is one thing, but how the league does not have a fail safe in instances like this is unacceptable. Would Steinauer getting his timeout have changed the outcome of the game? Maybe not, but that’s not the point.

The point is an officiating error that could be easily fixed — the booth is allowed to review whether a coach threw his challenge flag before the snap of the ball, so why not let them do the same for a coach wanting a timeout? — was just allowed to happen with no recourse for the Ticats.

In retrospect, Steinauer should have thrown his challenge flag and made up something to challenge. He would have received his timeout during the ensuing review and even if he lost it, no biggie.

The Riders did just enough to win this game, but one has to wonder what the outcome would have been had the officials been paying attention in the crucial final seconds.

Dane’s debut

If you were to give new starting QB Dane Evans a grade for his performance against the Riders, I think a C would be warranted. There were moments of true brilliance — a great back shoulder throw, a superlative third quarter in all, developing some chemistry with Luke Tasker — mixed in with moments where he showed he was a guy making his second career start.

The interception on the first throw after the defence forced a turnover on downs, the lack of timing with some of his receivers and the weird final play show that Evans still has a ways to go. But the building blocks are there, and he will only get better the more he plays.

Toe tap dap

While there will be other catches that will be better, I’m not sure we will see a better toe-tap catch this season than the one we saw by Anthony Coombs in the third quarter.

The ball was thrown where only Coombs could catch it, and catch it he did. Words can almost not describe how difficult a catch that was as Coombs’ left foot came down about a nanosecond before his right.

It was as close to not being a catch as you can get. Riders fans in attendance, and online, were screaming about how Coombs was out of bounds, but he wasn’t by the closest of margins possible.

Offence struggles again

The early game struggles the Ticats dealt with while Jeremiah Masoli was on the field have not gone anywhere with him off it. The offence once again couldn’t get anything going early, going two-and-out on three of their first five drives and only picking up three first downs in the entire first half.

If not for a stellar effort from the defence, the Ticats would have been out of this one early. Lucky for them, the Riders were almost equally as inept during the game’s first 30 minutes.

Third quarter dominance

The third quarter, where Hamilton has made their most noise all season, was once again their best quarter. It was where they picked up their most first downs, put together their best drive, and found the end zone for the only time in the game.

Their third quarter momentum carried over into the fourth, as the Ticats put together a nice drive to start the final 15-minute frame that ended in a field goal. I don’t know what it will take to get this team to replicate their third quarter dominance in quarters one and two, but they need to figure out how to start as fast at the beginning of the game as they do at the beginning of the second half.

Defence does its job

It is kind of odd to reflect positively on a defensive performance that gave up over 400 yards of offence to its opponent, but without the Ticats defence playing as well as it did this game would have been a blowout by halftime. The Riders outplayed the Ticats early and took a 13-6 lead into halftime, but Hamilton’s defence kept them in the game with timely stops and making sure good Rider drives resulted in threes and not sixes.

Cody Fajardo threw for over 300 yards, Shaq Evans had 160 of those, but William Powell was kept in check with 51 yards on 15 carries. Considering Powell shredded the Ticats in Week 1 with a solid 104 yards on 20 carries. The Ticats’ run D has been a bit hit or miss this season — we can’t forget William Stanback running over the Ticats for over 200 yards in Week 4 — but holding one of the league’s top rushers to just over 50 yards on the ground shows that area of the defence is starting to pick things up.

Leonard, Davis and Shortill, oh my

After a great rookie year, Richard Leonard struggled mightily in his second season a year ago. It looks like Leonard has gone back to his year-one self, and against the Riders he was tremendous.

A ticky-tack DPI call notwithstanding, Leonard was a force, literally, in forcing two fumbles, including one on Kyran Moore that David Dean scooped up. Leonard finished with two tackles in addition to those two forced fumbles. Just a great game by him.

Two other standouts should come as no surprise, as Ja’Gared Davis did Ja’Gared Davis things, and Nick Shortill once again led the team in tackles while filling in for the suspended Simoni Lawrence. Shortill has proven these last two weeks that he can be an every-down starter at the professional level, and Ja’Gared Davis has become the game wrecker we all knew he was after his time in Calgary. The Ticats are getting great play from a lot of guys on defence, but these three standout the most.

Shaq dunks on Breaux

Teams have shied away from throwing on Delvin Breaux, but the Riders are not one of those teams.

Cody Fajardo wasn’t afraid to throw Breaux’s way in Week 1 when he replaced the now-traded Zach Collaros, and Fajardo didn’t avoid him in Week 8 either. The main man Breaux matched up against was Shaq Evans, and Evans won that battle, with 160 yards on seven catches.

Breaux is being asked to do different stuff this year — the Ticats play a lot more zone than they did a year ago — but it is still weird to see him targeted, and beaten, so many times. But knowing Breaux, he will use this as motivation to be even better if these two teams should meet again this season.

Just about even

At 5-2 and 4-3, it is not crazy to say the Ticats and Riders are fairly evenly matched teams. The 42-41 aggregate score (in favour of the Ticats) shows this as well. The era of parity seems to have arrived in the CFL. Currently, there are five teams above .500, one team at .500 and one team one game below .500, and the East-West divide is shrinking (the West has a slight 10-7 edge in head-to-head contests vs. the East).

It looks like we are in for one of the more chaotic CFL seasons in a long time. No one is running away from anyone, the divisions are as even as ever, and there isn’t a clear-cut favourite for the Grey Cup as we start the season’s third month. That is good for fans across the country and should make for some great football as the season progresses.

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Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.