Ticats escape B.C. with ugly win (and nine more thoughts)

In the vein of recent Ticats games, the result was pretty, but the journey to get there was decidedly not.

Hamilton led for most of the game, but never managed to pull away and allowed the Lions to hang around until the bitter end. Winning in B.C. is never easy, so one should not be angry that the Ticats won 13-10.

But given where the two teams are right now, with the Ticats a league-best 8-2 (tied with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) and the Lions a league-worst 1-9, the result should probably have been a little more lopsided.

However a win is a win, and the Ticats enter their annual Labour Day clash with the Argos atop the East Division. Ugly, pretty, convincing, unconvincing, doesn’t matter. The wins keep piling up and that is all that matters.

Here are more thoughts:

Oh, what a pass rush

The Ticats invested heavily in their defensive line this off-season, bringing in a pair of players who will likely be division, if not league, all-stars at the end of the season.

Both Dylan Wynn and Ja’Gared Davis were nigh unstoppable against the Lions, accounting for five of the seven sacks the Ticats’ front four accumulated. Davis had two, while Wynn had three. (Wynn’s performance would see him named a CFL top performer for the week and for the month).

Wynn’s signing was one of those under-the-radar-type acquisitions that didn’t receive much fanfare, but was an obvious solid move back when it happened. He now has eight sacks this season, doubling his career total and he’s done it in just 10 games.

With Ted Laurent missing the game due to injury, the expectation was the Ticats would see a dip in production up front. And when Adrian Tracy was ruled out after suffering a freak injury in warm-ups things looked even worse. Not so fast.

Not only did Wynn and Davis record multiple sacks, their fellow line mates, Julian Howsare and David Dean, who was starting in place of Laurent, brought Mike Reilly down as well. The Ticats didn’t blitz a ton and still found a way to bring Mike Reilly to the turf seven times. Regardless of how awful B.C.’s offensive line is — and it is truly awful — seven sacks, all from the d-line, is an impressive feat.

Acklin a fool

With Luke Tasker out, someone had to step up and fill the void left by No. 17.

CFL world, say hello to Jaelon Acklin.

Until last Saturday, Acklin was best known for being the brash rookie who got into a physical altercation with Delvin Breaux on the first day of training camp. That seems like forever ago, now, as Acklin has slowly become one of Dane Evans’ favourite targets.

Against the Lions, Acklin led the team in receiving and was second in receptions. He was Evans’ go-to guy for most of the night and proved he could handle the load.

Oh, yeah, and then there was that catch.

While some observers will incorrectly argue that since the ball touched the ground it should have been ruled incomplete — ignoring that the ball is allowed to touch the ground so long as the ground doesn’t aid in the catch, which it clearly does not — that was easily one of the best catches I have ever seen. It will absolutely be in the conversation for catch of the year at the end of the season. The concentration, the spin, the relocating of the ball. All of it was just tremendous.

Leonard pick nixes six

The second catch up for catch of the night — and should also be in the running for catch of the year, even if it wasn’t by a receiver — was Richard Leonard’s one-handed interception of Mike Reilly in the end zone.

I am not sure if words can do it justice, but it was definitely one of the best interceptions I have ever witnessed. Leonard just plucks the ball out of the air with one hand and such ease that it made it seem unreal.

It also took points off the board for the Lions, which would prove to be vitally important in what ended up being a three-point margin of victory for the Ticats. In fact, the Ticats had two red-zone picks in this one — the other being brought in by Rico Murray on a wobbly pass thrown by Reilly after he was plastered by Justin Tuggle — and if those interceptions don’t happen, it is very likely the Ticats do not leave B.C. Place Stadium with a win.

Misdirection is the only direction

As the season has gone on, and as the unfortunate injuries have piled up, we have seen the Ticats break out some interesting formations and play calls.

Misdirection plays have become an even bigger part of the offence, with jet sweeps to Brandon Banks, fake sweeps and wildcat formations becoming the norm on a weekly basis. The Ticats busted some of this stuff out against the Lions to some moderate success. While none of them broke for huge gains, the Ticats continuing to use these types of plays could pay dividends later in the season.

Expanding the Marshall plan

The numbers aren’t eye-popping — just 55 yards on 13 carries — but I felt like Cam Marshall had another solid outing. He continues to run tough between the tackles and found some space on one 25-yard scamper that showed he can break the big one.

With Dane Evans still growing into his role as the starter, leaning more on the run game should help. Given how well Marshall has played the last couple of weeks, it is clear he can handle the load.

Keep your cool

In what was a continuation of some disciplinary issues, the Ticats took a couple of dumb, unnecessary penalties against the Lions, namely a pair of unnecessary roughness calls against Kelvin Palmer and Jaelon Acklin, respectively.

Palmer’s penalty halted what was looking like a decent Ticats’ drive. While the team still scored points thanks to a 52-yard Lirim Hajrullahu field goal, one has to wonder if the Ticats may have been able to find the end zone if Palmer doesn’t get that flag.

Acklin’s might have been even dumber with his coming on, of all things, a convert try after the Ticats punched it in for the first, and only, time.

These types of selfish and, literally, unnecessary penalties cannot continue.

We saw Chris Van Zeyl take a pair the week before against Ottawa and we saw two more against B.C. The Ticats need to be smarter than this, because against better teams stuff like this will bite them in the rear.

Wrap! It! Up!

It was starting to look like déjà vu all over again when John White gashed the Ticats for a big gain early. And while White would get nicked up and miss most of the game, the Ticats’ inability to make routine tackles still reared its ugly head.

Wayne Moore, who looked like the second coming of Jerome Messam, ran off some big gains and looked like he could be a legit starting-calibre CFL running back. But there were also a number of other instances where the Ticats had a chance to bring a guy down only to see him break a tackle and pick up extra yards.

It’s been a problem for a lot of the season and is something the team will need to get fixed as the warm summer weather turns cold in the next few weeks.

Offensive struggles continue

When a team scores just 13 points, it is clearly not a banner night for the offensive side of the ball.

Dane Evans had probably his worst game since taking over as the team’s starter, completing less than 55 per cent of his passes for just 194 yards, including two bad interceptions. These types of ups and downs are going to happen with every young quarterback and the Ticats are fortunate enough to be so talented around him that the rest of the team can pick up the slack when Evans struggles.

The Ticats ran the ball a good number of times (21), but the yards (93) and yards per carry (4.4) were less than ideal. The Ticats held the ball for just 25:34 and mustered a measly 10 second-down conversions out of 29 tries.

Hamilton’s offence has been a work in progress, and former coach Kent Austin was famous for saying success isn’t linear. This year’s Tiger-Cats team, especially the last couple of weeks, are proving that to the be the case.

Off night for the zebras

It was not a good night for the refs either, with Andre Proulx’s crew missing a number of key plays that could have swung the game in either team’s favour.

The most egregious being missing some head shots on both teams’ quarterbacks.

For Mike Reilly, the one that stands out is the face mask that definitely was missed, while the refs — in this case, the usually reliable Andre Proulx — somehow missed a blatant headshot on Dane Evans delivered by Shawn Lemon.

These are the types of calls that simply cannot be missed. While I stand by my feelings that Andre Proulx is one of the best refs, if not the best ref, in the CFL, that doesn’t mean he is immune from having an off night like anyone else.

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