There had been a lot of head scratching going on regarding the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and their rough start to the new season.
A sputtering offence, an ineffectual defence and non-existent special teams had the Ticats as the league’s last winless team heading into their Week 4 matchup with the Alouettes in Montreal.
What a difference 60 minutes makes.
The Ticats started hot, cooled off for a bit, then throttled it back up to earn their first victory of the season, a 27-10 road win on what looked like a beautiful night in Montreal.
The Ticats now sit at 1-2, tied with the Als and Redblacks in points and just a game back of the idle-because-of-Edmonton’s-COVID-outbreak Argos, who they will meet on Labour Day in Hamilton’s home opener.
The Ticats finally looked like the Ticats, and if they can keep that momentum going they will soon be back where we all thought they would be: atop the East Division standings.
Mr. Does-It-All does it all
I won’t go so far as to say Frankie Williams is the best player in the CFL, but he may be the most impactful. Few players in modern football are able to have the type of impact Williams does on two-thirds of the game. Williams does it both in the return game, where he is the league’s reigning top special teams player, and on defence, where is a valuable member of the team’s secondary as their starting field-side corner.
Williams got the game started off on the right foot when he took the opening kickoff 49 yards and into Montreal territory. Four plays later and the Ticats were up 7-0.
Williams’ electrifying 67-yard, first-quarter punt return set the Ticats up in Montreal territory for a second time. They could only muster a field goal, which was slightly disappointing, but it gave the Ticats a double-digit lead, something they had not had all year — they hadn’t scored in double digits in either of their first two games — and Williams wasn’t done yet.
In the fourth quarter, with the Ticats nursing a three-point advantage, Williams made a bead on a late wide-side throw by Vernon Adams, Jr. and came away with the Ticats’ first interception of 2021. Williams weaved his way to the Montreal 14-yard line, setting up the offence to put the game away four plays later when Dane Evans hit Nikola Kalinic for a three-yard touchdown strike.
Also, shoutout to the entire Ticats’ secondary. For the first time this year the starting unit was all together and did it ever make a difference. The Als’ receivers dropping what seemed like every other pass — maybe Adams should looking for some refunds on that $20,000 he spent in the off-season bringing his receivers together — but the coverage was tight all night.
While Frankie was the star and will get most of the press clippings, the other four guys — Tunde Adeleke, Cariel Brooks, Jumal Rolle and Ciante Evans — deserve their flowers as well.
Hi, my name is… Steven Dunbar, Jr.
The star of the first half for the Ticats was rookie receiver Steven Dunbar, Jr., who was making his first CFL start. He had two catches on the first drive, including a sensational over-the-shoulder touchdown catch, and finished the game with a game-high six catches and 95 yards.
With Brandon Banks off to a slow start — he had just two catches for five yards in this one — and both Bralon Addison and DeVier Posey still on the injured list, the Ticats needed one of the newcomers to step up — Dunbar did. Now we need to see if he can repeat this performance and make it difficult for the coaching staff to take him out of the lineup when everyone is back healthy.
Great Dane, Daney Dimes, just call him ‘Winner’
I will delve more in depth into the decision the Ticats have to make at quarterback later in the week, but on this night it was hard not to be impressed with the performance of Dane Evans.
Getting his first start since getting shellacked in the Grey Cup, Evans looked poised and calm despite facing an onslaught from Montreal’s defensive front. The Ticats’ offensive line was, to be kind, not good, and Evans was facing a near constant stream of pressure.
But despite all that he still managed a decent outing, finishing the game 15-of-22 for 183 yards, two touchdowns and, maybe most importantly, zero turnovers. He was sacked an absurd six times thanks in large part to another poor performance from the guys paid to protect him, but he never really seemed rattled and was still willing to stand in there to make the big play.
Evans has now been behind centre for six straight regular-season wins, and has been victorious in 11 of his last 13 games starting, so when Evans plays wins tend to follow.
There were a couple plays Evans would probably like to have back — a missed throw to Brandon Banks that would have been a walk-in touchdown stands out the most — but this was unquestionably the best QB performance we have seen by the Ticats in 2021 and there are now legitimate questions to be asked about who should be the starter going forward.
More like William Sitdown
If you didn’t remember that William Stanback had a marvellous game against the Ticats two years ago, don’t worry because TSN was going to remind you about it every time the Alouettes had the ball. It was a tremendous performance and worthy of being highlighted, but it felt like a bit much after the fifth or sixth time it was mentioned.
But TSN bringing it up every Alouettes’ possession allowed them to unknowingly highlight the fact that Hamilton’s run defence was absolutely stellar against Stanback in this one. The Als’ star back finished with just 40 yards on 12 carries, a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, with a long of nine just yards.
It was the exact opposite of what we saw in the same stadium 25 months prior, and becomes an even more impressive feat given the Ticats did it without a pair of 2019 all stars in the lineup, with both Ja’Gared Davis and Dylan Wynn sitting this game out.
With Stanback on one side and the tandem of Sean Thomas Erlington and Wes Hills on the other, you wouldn’t have expected the Ticats to more than double the amount of rushing yards the Alouettes had, but that is exactly what happened.
You have to be happy for Sean Thomas Erlington
In that same game 25 months ago Sean Thomas Erlington, who was off to a scintillating start, suffered a knee injury that ended his 2019 season. STE was brilliant for the Ticats to start last season, so watching him go down in just the team’s fourth game was heartbreaking for many of the Tiger-Cats faithful.
Watching him have the game he had on the same field his superstar turn was halted was equally as heartwarming.
Thomas Erlington finished the game with 10 carries for 73 yards, more than half of the team’s 144 total rushing yards, and the game-icing touchdown that gave the Ticats their 17-point margin of victory. On that same drive he had another highlight-reel hurdle, this time of Als’ defensive back Greg Reid that literally got me out of my seat watching the game at home.
If the Ticats can get their run game going — I know, a running theme (no pun intended) for this team for the last *checks notes* ever — this offence could really kick it into high gear.
In-game interviews have to end
A week after TSN did an in-booth interview with new B.C. Lions owner Amar Doman to much dismay from most of the viewers watching at home, they doubled down by doing another here, this time with new Alouettes owner Gary Stern.
The only good thing was Stern being in the booth for the Alouettes’ lone touchdown of the night and him stopping mid-sentence to cheer the team when they scored. But other than that, I implore TSN to stop doing these. They are boring for the viewer at home and distracts from the game that is going on. They should have learned their lesson from the disastrous Keith Urban Grey Cup segment, but they didn’t.
TSN has pre-game shows for a good number of their games, including this one, and that is where these types of things should occur, not in the booth during the actual games.
Fan reaction on Twitter was universally negative, and despite TSN prattling off some nonsense about the Lions game coverage not being compromised during the Doman interview, it does get compromised. In this instance, we essentially missed an entire drive by the Als, and the lone touchdown drive the team had on the night.
I’m all for getting in-depth profiles on the people behind the scenes, knowing more about the people not on the field allows fans to feel more connected to the team and the league, but that is what the pre-game show should be about. Use that platform to do more of these long-form interviews instead of using that half-hour allotment of time to talk about the point spread or over/under for the third time in 22 minutes.
If there is one problematic area of the Ticats, and not even a win could cover this up, it is the play of the offensive line over the first three games.
The Ticats trotted out their third different starting unit in as many games. With Week 1 starter Trevon Tate being released (and later signed by the Argos) and Chris Van Zeyl on the six-game, Kay Okafor got his second start at left tackle and newcomer Jordan Murray slotted into Van Zeyl’s vacated right tackle position.
The interior of the line stayed the same from the game against the Riders, but no matter what the team does it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Having seen three different lineups, I’m still not remotely convinced the Ticats have found the right mix on the line yet, meaning we may see another different unit on Labour Day.
My co-host on Podskee Wee Wee, Mike Graham, has been concerned about the offensive line since Ryker Mathews left for B.C. in the 2020 off-season, and while that didn’t stop the Ticats from picking up the W in this one it sure does seem like the big men are going to be what stops the Ticats from reaching their full potential.
If the Ticats can’t get their offensive line sorted out, they won’t win a championship.