Steeltown shocker: undermanned Ticats beat Bo for first time (and eight other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Ryan McCullough/Hamilton Tiger Cats

“Bo Levi Mitchell has never lost to Hamilton and he won’t take his first ‘L’ going up against a David Watford-led attack.”

Those are the words some idiot wrote ahead of Bo Levi Mitchell losing his first game to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats going up against a David Watford-led attack.

Given the injuries to both Dane Evans and Jeremiah Masoli, as well as being without Brandon Banks and Chris Van Zeyl, thinking this would be a tough one for the Ticats to win seemed reasonable. The Stamps, especially Bo, always seem to flummox the Tabbies and it felt like Friday night would be no different.

But different it was.

Hamilton won an ugly contest that bordered on unwatchable in the first half. If not for a bunch of inexplicable special teams gaffes — Calgary had two punts bounce off their returners, while the Ticats muffed a punt of their own — there would be nothing to talk about through the game’s first 30 minutes.

But the second half saw a little more action — albeit not much — and the Ticats did just enough to come away with the 23-17 win to move to 3-3 on the season.

Not many believed the Cats would come out of this game with a win, but they did and you have to wonder what this team will look like if they ever get everyone healthy at once.

Here are the rest of my thoughts on the improbable win.

The 1 in 12-1

Henry Burris, Zach Collaros, Jeremiah Masoli, Dane Evans and Dan LeFevour have all had their shot to beat the streak, but they couldn’t do it. The man who put the one in 12-1 was incredibly David Watford, a guy who wasn’t even on the roster when the season began.

Watford, who started the game because Evans is out for four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury and Masoli is still nursing hurt ribs, wasn’t the catalyst for the victory, but he didn’t make any big mistakes — mostly because he wasn’t asked to do too much.

He was an efficient 19-of-22 passing for 149 yards. He did not throw or run for any touchdowns, but he also didn’t turn over the ball either. He was tasked with managing the game and that is exactly what he did. It wasn’t pretty, and it won’t get his bust in the Hall of Fame, but the answer to the trivia question: ‘Which Ticats QB was the first to beat Bo Levi Mitchell?’ It will now always be David Watford.

Big D energy

Since getting shellacked for 30 points in a blowout loss to the Riders in early August, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence has seemingly made it their mission to completely demolish opposing offences. They have given up an average of just under 16 points per game over their last four games, and those numbers would look even better if not for a pair of garbage-time touchdowns, one on Labour Day and another on Friday night.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence has been getting a lot of press for how good they have been — and make no mistake about it, they have been great — but the Ticats aren’t that far behind them, especially over the last four games.

Put ‘em in an end zone body bag

Two things have evaded Simoni Lawrence during his CFL career, a Grey Cup, which many think he can get this year, and defensive player of the year. He was a finalist in 2019, but lost out to Willie Jefferson. Many chalked that up to Lawrence’s suspension, but both players were worthy finalists and one was going to lose.

But with the way Lawrence is playing this year, he might finally get that top defensive player trophy. He is second in the league in tackles and is tied for the league lead in interceptions. The 32-year-old has also taken both of his picks to the house, which was hugely impactful on Friday night.

With the Ticats stagnating on offence, the defence needed to make a play. Enter Hov. Lawrence’s pick-six gave the Ticats a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. He has once again been one of the best defenders in the CFL and might even get recognized for it at season’s end.

What’s up with Bo?

Entering the season everyone thought there would be a quarterback controversy on one of the Grey Cup favourites. It is just that many thought that controversy would be in Hamilton, not Calgary.

After another poor outing from Bo Levi Mitchell, is it now time for them to think about sitting him in favour of Jake Maier? Take name and contract out of it; who between the two has been the better QB so far in 2021? The answer is Maier. Bo was awful against the Ticats, going 16-of-28 for 170 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Bo has not been the Bo we have come to know during the last seven years and I am not sure if he gives the Stampeders the best chance to win. Maybe you don’t make the move yet, but the Stamps are looking up at every other team in the West and if they don’t start winning soon they will do something they haven’t done in close to two decades, miss the playoffs.

Run ‘em into the ground

Hamilton came into Friday’s contest with a game plan to limit what Watford needed to do, and part of that plan was to run the football. That couldn’t have caught the Stamps by surprise, given Watford’s limitations as a passer, but the Ticats still found a way to ram the ball down the defence’s throat to the tune of 116 yards on 30 carries.

They brought back the receiver sweeps and pounded the rock with Jackson Bennett and Maleek Irons up the middle. It wasn’t always pretty, and the yards per carry were a pedestrian 3.9, but it was in stark contrast to what we have seen from the team in the most recent past. The Ticats ran the ball 30 times and only threw it 22 times. I can’t recall the last time Hamilton had more rushes that passes, but it was a smart game plan and one that worked out.

Swat team

Seeing passes knocked down is nothing special; Willie Jefferson has made it look routine even. But the Ticats knocking down seven Bo Levi Mitchell passes on Friday night was incredible. Kameron Kelly and Jovan Santos-Knox each had a pair, while Simoni Lawrence, Ja’Gared Davis and Julian Howsare had one each. I will have to do some digging, but I’m hard pressed to think of a game where a team had that many pass knockdowns.

A kick to the nuts

The only real fight the Stampeders brought to this game came courtesy of Mike Rose when he kicked Nikola Kalinic in his nether region. Rose was immediately pulled off the field after being assessed a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. I have to ask how a deliberate punch to a helmet gets someone ejected, but a deliberate kick to someone’s genitals does not? It feels like both should be ejection-worthy actions.

Still undefeated

While one undefeated streak ended, another continued. The Ticats have not lost at Tim Hortons Field since November of 2018 and have rattled off 12 straight victories at home.

As head coach, Orlondo Steinauer has never tasted defeat at the stadium lovingly referred to by many as The Donut Box. When the stadium opened in 2014, the Ticats rolled off 10 straight wins and made it a hellacious place for opposing teams to play. Coincidentally, they also had one of their best runs in franchise history during that span.

The Ticats making Tim Hortons Field a fortress once again bodes well for a team that hopes to play for a championship in their home stadium.

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.