Ticats beat Argos in sloppy fashion to finish undefeated at home (and six other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

It wasn’t the prettiest way to end the regular season, but the Ticats did enough to leave Tim Hortons Field victorious for the ninth time out of nine tries this year.

In a game that was played mostly with backups, the Ticats beat their QEW rivals from Toronto 21-18 to finish the 2019 season a remarkable 15-3 and a franchise best 9-0 at home.

This season saw many firsts in Hamilton, from a franchise record for wins, to their first ever undefeated home record — just the eighth team in CFL history to accomplish that feat — to the literal first of finishing first in the East Division. The Ticats still have a couple other firsts to accomplish, namely winning their first championship in 20 years.

Saturday night wasn’t the best game played by the Ticats this year — in fact, it may have been the worst — but they still found a way to get the win and, in the end, that is really all that matters.

No Moore

Rookie Hayden Moore started the first game of his professional career and it showed. Moore looked every bit the rookie he was, tossing four interceptions and completely 18 of his 28 pass attempts for 218 yards in about three quarters of action. That interception total could have been even larger if penalties didn’t wipe out two other picks he threw.

Last year, in a similar position, the Ticats opted to rest their starter and play their backup. That was the first time anyone really got to see Dane Evans play and while he didn’t set the world on fire, he played solid enough. Fast forward a year, Evans was the starter being sat after an exceptional season and Moore was given the chance to show that maybe he could be the next Dane Evans. He did not.

Expecting Moore to play like Evans was illogical. Evans looks like he could be the leader of the next generation of CFL pivots, while Moore looks like he will be a career backup. It’s only one game and it is never fair to judge a player from his first start, but there are not a lot of positives to take from Moore’s performance.

He made some nice passes — a couple to Luke Tasker stick out — but it’s the interceptions that will be the things most fans remember from Moore’s first start.

The thundering herd

The Ticats have a problem, but it is a good problem to have: who should start the East Final at tailback.

The consensus, likely, choice will be Tyrell Sutton, but we cannot discount the play of Cam Marshall, who on Saturday was the best player on the field for either team on either side of the ball.

The former Arizona State Sun Devil, who carried the ball 18 times for 109 yards, was the first Ticats rusher to have 100 or more yards on the ground since Sean Thomas-Erlington did it all the way back in Week 2 against these same Toronto Argonauts. Marshall’s 109 yards in this one gave him 307 yards on the season, which made him Hamilton’s leading rusher for 2019. The former leader, Thomas-Erlington, hasn’t played since Week 4.

The Ticats have used a variety of plays and players to rush the ball the season, eight different non-quarterbacks have at least 13 carries on the season for the Ticats and six different players (not including quarterbacks) have at least one rushing touchdown. Oddly enough, one of those players isn’t Thomas-Erlington.

Hamilton has gotten by all season on a committee approach to running the football, leading them to finish fourth in the league in rushing yards despite not having one player finish in the top 15 in rushing yards. They will likely continue with the committee approach in the East Final and Grey Cup (if they get there), but if they can find a way to get both Marshall and Sutton on the game-day roster for the playoffs, this rushing attack could be lethal.

Tackle the issue

Whether the Argos were just a literal slippery bunch or not, the Ticats had plenty of chances to wrap guys up and failed to do so. There were numerous missed sacks that ended up becoming big plays for the Argos — Rodney Smith’s 75-yard touchdown catch was one such play — and missed tackles that could have ended drives. The Ticats played a ton of lesser experienced players, but the tackling should not have been this poor.

Give Mike a chance

Canadian QB Michael O’Connor got another shot to play and he looked fairly impressive in about a half of work. He completed 10-of-16 passes for 112 yards and didn’t turn the ball over.

O’Connor didn’t lead any touchdown drives either, but for a guy in just second career game, he played well enough to warrant a roster spot net year. Some think O’Connor can be a star, but a lot of those people just really want to see a Canadian star at QB.

From what I’ve seen at the pro level, O’Connor can play. It will be interesting to watch him develop and see if he can become the star so many want him to be.

Now we play the waiting game

For the first time since 2014, the Ticats are sitting at home waiting to see who they’ll face in the East Final.

While some incorrectly argue that maybe a team who is hot — the Ticats have won six straight and 10 of their last 11 — having the bye is a huge advantage. Since Ottawa returned to the league in 2014, the one-seeds are a perfect 10-for-10 in getting to the Grey Cup.

The last time a team lost at home in the divisional finals was when the Argos and Stampeders lost to the Ticats and Riders, respectively, in 2013. Over the last 10 years, just five of 20 teams have lost when hosting the divisional final. That’s the type of math that the Ticats (and Riders) want to hear.

Who are we? Forever first

Lastly, I wanted to use this space to give a shout out to Hamilton’s other football team, the Canadian Premier League’s Forge FC, who just won the inaugural North Star Shield as the CPL’s champions.

Forge had a tremendous year, as did the CPL as a whole, and to cap it off with Hamilton’s first pro championship in 20 years was something special.

And if Ticats fans want to take anything from this, Forge took home the championship by marching into Calgary and beating the hometown Cavalry FC. Just think about it: a Hamilton team owned by Bob Young that plays its home games at Tim Hortons Field went into Calgary and beat the home side in a hostile environment to win a coveted championship.

Sounds like something Ticats fans wouldn’t mind seeing in about three weeks.

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.