Ticats flip the script, beat Argos in the Labour Day Classic (and eight other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

As has been the case more than a couple times this year, it was a tale of two halves for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The first half, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Ejections, turnovers, lack of execution, poor protection, you name it. If something negative could have happened it likely did happen to the Ticats.

Then the second half came.

Whatever was said to the team at the break worked, because the Ticats quickly erased a 13-point deficit, outscoring the Argos 27-3 over the final two stanzas to win the game 38-27.

The Ticats are now 9-2 for the first time in 21 years (we have been saying that a lot this season), eight points up on second-place Montreal (who, in fairness, have played two fewer games) and have now taken the season series over the Argos. While that probably won’t matter — in fact, I’d feel very comfortable guaranteeing it won’t matter — it means the Ticats are very close to officially securing a playoff spot.

Here are my other thoughts on the Labour Day victory.

The brouhaha

I can’t remember the last time there was a good, old-fashioned donnybrook at a Labour Day Classic, but there were a couple in this one.

The first, and obviously more memorable of the two, was the one that saw a pair of Ticats ejected for rough play. Tunde Adeleke and Frankie Williams were both tossed, and while I can’t comment on Williams’ ejection (because I haven’t seen what he was thrown out for), Adeleke stupidly shoved an official and deserved his ejection (and definite fine, and maybe suspension, that will be handed down later this week).

My question, however, is how a pair of Argos were not also tossed from the game. James Wilder Jr. started the whole mess by dragging Simoni Lawrence along the ground by his face mask and S.J. Green appeared to throw punches during the skirmish.

At the game, I thought Wilder shoved an official, but seeing the replay made it look more accidental than purposeful. Either way, starting the melee and Green throwing punches should have also resulted in ejections. This wasn’t a one-way fight, and yet it was the Ticats who were punished while the Argos got off scot-free.

I’m curious to see what fines will come from this, and if the league will issue a statement saying the refs were wrong to not eject more players.

Evans comes of age

Was the second half where the switch finally flipped for Dane Evans?

We have seen Evans play well in spurts (and poorly in spurts, including in this game), but this was the first time since taking over for Jeremiah Masoli that Evans truly looked like a starting quarterback.

The two interceptions and the fumble are things that need to be cleaned up, but it is difficult to be too hard on a guy who goes 31-of-37 for 442 yards and two passing touchdowns, while adding another 42 yards on four carries and a rushing score to his ledger.

At one point in the game he completed 19 straight passes, he was poised in the pocket even as things broke down (and they broke down a lot.) He just seemed to look more comfortable in this game than in any game he’s started so far. There is still a long ways to go — like I said, those turnovers need to be drastically cut down — but you have to like the way Evans is trending upwards.

Oh, and for the QB wins crowd, he’s 4-1 as a starter this year.

Poor protection

Seven sacks.

No, that’s not what the Ticats registered against the Argos, but what they gave up.

This was easily Hamilton’s worst game protecting their QB, but not all the fault lies with the hogs. On a couple of those sacks Evans held onto the ball too long, meaning he either wasn’t finding the open man or there was no open man.

Coverage sacks are a thing, too. While I won’t completely absolve the offensive line for the seven sacks, they don’t take all the blame. That said, this can’t happen in any of the next three games or the Ticats will come back to Tim Hortons Field with way more than two losses.

Killer Bs

Outside of Evans, the Ticats got three other massive performances from their offence in the form of Bralon Addison, Brandon Banks and Jackson Bennett.

Addison has really come into his own and may be pushing Banks for the team’s MOP nomination. He had 11 catches for 167 yards and two scores, including the backbreaker in the fourth quarter that put the game away. He also ran the ball five times for 23 yards and was used multiple times to take the snap in some wildcat formations.

Addison has become an indispensable part of the offence and is a star in the making. If not for playing with the flashier, and louder, Banks, Addison may be a much bigger name around the league.

Speaking of Banks, he quietly put up an impressive outing, catching nine passes for 109 yards and the team’s two-point convert after their first TD. Banks has now retaken the top spot in receiving yardage and continues to show that he is the league’s best receiver and top playmaker.

Bennett was the living embodiment of the next-man-up philosophy the Ticats have preached all season. With Cam Marshall being moved to the six-game injury list, the Ticats opted to go with Anthony Coombs to start the game. When Coombs did little, they switched to Bennett who made an almost immediate impact.

He finished the game with 105 total yards, 77 rushing yards on 12 carries and 28 yards on three receptions, while finding the end zone for the score that would put the Ticats up for good. Bennett is in his first year as a tailback, having switched over this season after spending last year as a DB, and while he hasn’t lit it up in his previous opportunities, he took full advantage on Monday.

Labour Day always has a player or two emerge from relative obscurity to make a huge impact and Jackson Bennett was that guy in 2019.

Simoni’s rebirth

I think it is fair to say that Simoni Lawrence had started to look like he lost a step last year.

Maybe it was the system he was in or something wasn’t clicking, but he didn’t look like the Simoni Lawrence who was one of the five best defensive players in football last year.

Simoni Lawrence once again looks like one of the five best defensive players in football.

Against the Argos, he led everyone with nine tackles and was a force all game, especially when it came to thwarting Argos RB James Wilder Jr. Wilder, whose mouth often writes cheques his butt can’t cash, was a non-factor all game.

Seven carries for 16 yards, and five catches for 37 yards is paltry for a guy who once thought it would be easy to become the first back in CFL history to have a 1,000-1,000 season.

The biggest impact Wilder had on the game was being the knucklehead who started the brawl that got Tunde Adeleke and Frankie Williams tossed. Wilder has almost never had a good game against the Ticats and I think a lot of that has to do with No. 21 in black and gold.

Simoni Lawrence seems to be on a one-man mission to take the throne as the CFL’s top defensive player.

Killing the narrative

We have heard a lot of talk recently about how teams in the CFL with the best records just aren’t that good. The Riders have dealt with this for the majority of their season, but especially since they started on their six-game winning streak.

But the Ticats have also dealt with this narrative that they aren’t as good as their league-best 9-2 record suggests. And while I understand that losing your all-star-calibre QB to a season-ending injury will make people doubt you, the fact of the matter is that the numbers show that Hamilton is not only one of best teams in the league, but that they are the best team.

Here are some of the facts: most wins, most points scored total and per game, fewest points allowed total and per game, undefeated at home and one of just two teams with an over .500 record on the road. And the idea that they’ve just beaten up on a weak East Division is false. The Ticats are 5-1 against the West and 4-1 against the East.

The Ticats have beaten every team in the league except Edmonton (because they haven’t played them yet) and their two losses both came on the road and were both by less than one score.

If you still want to doubt this Ticats team, go ahead. But at some point they are going to start getting the respect their 9-2 record should have earned them long ago.

Perfect on Labour Day

As crazy as this might sound, Brandon Banks and Simoni Lawrence have never lost on Labour Day.

Both came to the Ticats in 2013 and since then the team has won six straight Labour Day contests. The last loss on the first Monday of September came in the final year of Ivor Wynne Stadium back in 2012.

Since that last loss, the Ticats are 6-0 and have outscored the Argos 208-137, with four victories coming by double digits. The Ticats own Labour Day right now, and while this win streak on the most hallowed of days for Hamilton football will one day come to an end that day was not to be this Monday.

Magic number

Believe it or not, but we can actually start talking about playoff-clinching scenarios for the Ticats now.

With nine wins and the season series over the Argos, the Ticats have guaranteed themselves a finish of no worse than third as of this writing. The best record the Argos can finish with is 9-9 and the worst the Ticats can finish is that same 9-9. Meaning the Argos cannot catch the Ticats in the standings.

With the Argos out of the way, the Ottawa Redblacks are the next team on the chopping block. The Redblacks are currently at 3-7, it would take any combination of three Ticats’ wins or three Redblacks losses to see Hamilton punch their ticket to the 2019 playoffs.

The earliest, albeit probably unlikeliest, time that could happen would be September 14. If Ottawa loses their next two, at home to Toronto and on the road to B.C., and Hamilton were to win their next game at Calgary then Hamilton would be 10-2 and Ottawa would be at 3-9 meaning the Redblacks could not catch the Ticats.

That would guarantee the Ticats of finishing no worse than second place and therefore would make them playoff bound for the for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.

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.