Ticats follow all-too-familiar script in Thanksgiving loss to Argos

Photo courtesy: Ryan McCullough/Ticats.ca

Stop me if you heard this before: the Ticats blew a double-digit lead at home to a divisional rival and turned a potential season-altering win into a final play loss.

That’s what happened a week ago against the Montreal Alouettes and it is what happened again on Thanksgiving Monday to the Toronto Argonauts. The Ticats held a 20-8 lead early in the fourth quarter after a beautiful throw from Jeremiah Masoli to Jaelon Acklin. With the Ticats defence continuing its smothering play, the game felt over.

Except it wasn’t.

After a controversial call that went against the Ticats which we will get to later, the Argos scored 15 of the game’s final 18 points, and ended it with a 51-yard Boris Bede field goal with no time left on the clock. It was a disheartening ending that drops the Ticats to 4-5, tied with the Alouettes for second in the division on points but the Als have a game in hand. It moves the Argos to 6-3 with a two-game cushion on the rest of the division. It’s a rather large uphill climb now for the Cats to win the division and host the East Final, and hosting a playoff game at all is now in question. Not exactly where we saw the team being as they start their second bye week of the season.

*Deep inhale* OK, so about the officiating

This is the thing everyone wants to talk about because there were three very controversial calls, two that went against the Ticats and one that went their way.

Let’s start with the one they got, which was a long pass interference call late in the final quarter. Initially it looked like pretty good coverage, but upon review it appeared Treston Decoud got there about a half-second too early. I didn’t think Orlondo Steinauer’s challenge would be successful and I’m not sure I’m happy it was for what it means going forward. It was incredibly close, and I think I would prefer that be considered legal. I worry about the standard it sets, but then I remember this is the CFL and calls from game to another have no consistency. Calls within games have no consistency, so this won’t have any lasting effects, but I still don’t like that being called pass interference.

Now the ones that went against them and we will start with the roughing the passer call on Ja’Gared Davis that negated a Kameron Kelly interception and allowed an Argos drive to continue. Toronto would score a touchdown a couple of plays later. My issue here is not even that replay made it roughing the passer, but that replay is allowed to do such and the inconsistency with which it is applied. We have countless examples of replay not overturning clear roughing calls but here it does when it was borderline at best.

I think replay needs to be scaled back considerably, and I’d start with plays like this and pass interference. Penalties should be penalties in real time, not slowed down to the nanosecond to see if something warrants a flag. Both these plays had refs right there who didn’t think flags should have been thrown, and despite being very pro replay in the past I think I may have changed my tune. Perhaps we need to allow for a little more human error and not worry about getting every little thing right.

Now, one thing we definitely should use replay for, and actually do use replay for, is scoring plays and despite seeing people dissect this and tell us why it was the right call, nothing will convince me that Boris Bede’s field goal at the end of the first half went through the uprights. It didn’t, it shouldn’t have counted, and the Argos shouldn’t have been awarded those points. Just all around terrible on this and for it not to even be looked at — and until the CFL releases an official statement saying they did look at it, I will believe they haven’t — makes absolutely zero sense. To say Monday afternoon was a bad one for the zebras would be an understatement.

Exploiting a weakness

Both teams deserve some credit for their offensive game plans as both the Ticats and Argos did their best to exploit weaknesses in the other defence. The Ticats did this by running the ball at will in the first half, picking up big chunks of yards seemingly every time they ran the ball. Whether it was Sean Thomas-Erlington, Jeremiah Masoli or, maybe most impressively, Maleek Irons, the Argos could do nothing to stop the Ticats’ rushing attack. So of course they all but abandoned the run game in the second half.

The Argos, on the other hand, found a lot of success in the second half with short-to-intermediate passes, most of them of the seven-to-12-yard variety. It felt like the Ticats started playing too soft in their coverage and McLeod Bethel-Thompson just took what they gave him and did it with great effect. Just a well executed game plan on their end.

Best night by the offence by far… and they score how many points?

While scoring is still a problem it was nice to see some life out of the Ticats’ offence. The Ticats racked up 109 yards on the ground, 361 yards through the air, and moved the ball with ease throughout most of the game, save for their regular dry spell in the third quarter. Jeremiah Masoli had his best game of the season, completing 24-of-33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. He ran some as well, picking up 23 yards on four carries. If Masoli can keep this up the Ticats can win games down the stretch.

Decoud crosses a line

Following the game, a Ticats fan sent out a series of tweets accusing Decoud of some seriously idiotic behaviour. After the game it is alleged that the Argos cover man doused some Ticats fans sitting behind the Argos bench with Gatorade. People who sit behind the bench do so for a reason, and that is to chirp opposing players and get under their skin. It is usually a fun back and forth, and it is over when the game ends.

For Decoud to take this step shows a lack of class and, quite frankly, a lack of brains. Just as much as fans should never go on the field — and a fan did apparently toss a beer at Decoud which caused him to try to jump into the stands, which is not a great idea from anyone there — players should not be doing anything physically to fans in the stands either.

Sometimes fans can take it too far when jaw-jacking at players and the safety of being in the stands can sometimes allow people to say things they wouldn’t normally say if a barrier wasn’t in place. But I doubt that to be the case here — full disclosure, I know the person making the accusation against Decoud and consider him a friend. He is an honest and forthright person and would not make this public if it wasn’t 100 percent true. Just an ugly incident and Decoud should be ashamed of himself. Hopefully a fine will be coming his way.

Reason to stay optimistic

I know Ticats fans are likely a sad bunch this week, watching the team they thought would waltz to a championship sit under .500 in mid-October, but there is reason for optimism. Firstly, they may sit two games back of the first-place Argos, but their two losses to Toronto have each come by a single point, which shows they aren’t that far behind the division leaders.

Secondly, they have a nice pair of get-right games coming up after the bye, with a home contest against the last-place Ottawa Redblacks followed by their last big road trip of the regular season when they head to Edmonton to take on a struggling-in-every-sense-of-the-word Elks squad.

Win both of those and you set up a very interesting final three games of the season, including one more game against the Argos. Maybe this all falls apart and Hamiltonians are forced to watch the Argos win the first Grey Cup every hosted at Tim Hortons Field, but don’t lose faith yet. The Ticats still have time to turn this around and make that nightmare scenario a figment of our imagination.

Our new Thanksgiving night tradition

Canadian Thanksgiving and football go together like… well, American Thanksgiving and football — it just makes sense.

The CFL needs to make Thanksgiving Day doubleheaders a staple on the calendar. It could be a second Labour Day-like weekend for the league and used to the full effect by having some of the biggest rivals clash.

Initially I thought it should always be Ticats-Argos, expect the game should be in Toronto, not Hamilton, but the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that much like Labour Day, the game should feature an East game and a West game.

But unlike Labour Day, the games should rotate. So one year it should be Hamilton-Toronto at 1 p.m. ET and Calgary-Edmonton at 4 p.m. ET, and the next it should be Ottawa-Montreal at 1 p.m. ET and Saskatchewan-Winnipeg at 4 p.m. ET. Or whatever combination you prefer.

I just think going forward, like with Labour Day, we should expect and anticipate certain matchups on Thanksgiving. It just makes too much sense not to do every year.

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.