I don’t believe that must wins are a thing unless the loss will literally end your season, but there are games that my esteemed podcasting partner Mike Graham has labeled “can’t lose.” Hamilton’s game on Saturday against the woebegone Ottawa Redblacks was definitely one of those can’t-lose games.
And lose they did not.
Not only didn’t the Ticats lose, they blew out the visiting Redblacks by a score of 32-3. A slow first half, where the home side went into the break up just 8-3, had fans concerned that this was going to be another agonizingly close divisional contest, like the last two home games the Ticats had played (both losses).
Instead, the Black and Gold came out in the second half on fire. The offence scored on two of their first three drives, the defence held Ottawa’s offence to just 107 yards and forced turnovers or punts on every single second-half drive. The final 30 minutes was probably the best half of football we have seen out of the Ticats all season, and while it came against a terrible Redblacks team, the Ticats putting away an opponent was something we really hadn’t seen up to this point.
Masoli was magical
Despite calls for his head and cheers from the home crowd when he was injured — which were absolutely despicable — Jeremiah Masoli has put together his two best performances of the year in his last two games.
Saturday afternoon was a masterpiece by the former 2018 East Division M.O.P. as Masoli went an efficient 25-of-28 for 320 yards and two touchdown passes with no interceptions. It was the seconds consecutive clean game from the Ticats signal caller, and when Masoli plays turnover-free football, the Ticats have a chance to win. Evans, who fans were calling for in the lead up to the game, saw some playing time, but not enough to judge anything. The Ticats can win with either player behind centre, but on Saturday against a porous Redblacks team, Masoli was on point.
Defensive dominance continues
Playing Ottawa always inflates numbers, but Hamilton’s defence once again put on a masterful performance, holding the Redblacks to just 234 total yards of offence and 15 first downs (three coming via penalty), forced seven two-and-outs and five turnovers, and produced as many sacks as the Redblacks did points.
Hamilton has had one of the league’s best defences all year, and still hasn’t allowed more than 24 points in a game since August. While the old axiom of “defence wins championships” is flawed and untrue, the Ticats do have a championship defence. If the offence can produce like they did on Saturday, this team will be an incredibly difficult opponent for anyone in the playoffs.
Duck ain’t it, y’all
One of the players the Ticats made life miserable for was Delvin “Duck” Hodges, an inexplicably much ballyhooed signing from back in the summer. With the way his signing was covered you would have thought Duck was the second coming Doug Flutie, but he played more like Timm Rosenbach in his first CFL action.
Hodges completed eight-of-16 passes for a paltry 49 yards and was picked off once after Ottawa’s best play of the game, a 48-yard return by Terry Williams, set Ottawa up deep in Hamilton territory. Duck looked about as good as a real duck playing football — this is my movie idea, so no one better steal it, tentatively titled “The Duck Who Could Chuck” — and seemed to be completely taken aback by the CFL game.
On a third-down play, he ran for the sidelines and was tackled well short of the sticks. He probably wouldn’t have got there regardless, but it almost seemed as if he forgot there were only three downs. People need to stop thinking he is the saviour, because he is decidedly not. Despite his flaws, and a big regression from his first outing, the Redblacks are in better hands with Caleb Evans.
Hodges is who he is, while Evans has shown flashes that he can at least be developed into a passable quarterback. He turns the ball over too much, but that happens to a lot of first-year pivots in the pro ranks. He provides a spark and some excitement to what is an otherwise moribund Redblacks offensive unit.
If the Rouge et Noir go forth with Duck they will be in the same position this off-season as they were the last two off-seasons. Evans may never become “the guy” in the nation’s capital, but if I was a Redblacks, I would much rather watch the team try to develop him than sit in quarterbacking purgatory with a dude named Duck.
What was LaPo thinking?
Ottawa had one drive drive make its way into Hamiton’s red zone and despite getting the ball to Hamilton’s two-yard line they were forced to settle for a nine-yard Lewis Ward field goal. Forced might be the wrong word, as chose to settle might be more accurate because the play calling leading into the field goal attempt was some of the dumbest I have seen from a CFL coach, let alone a seasoned one such as Paul LaPolice.
With first and goal from the Hamilton two, LaPo sent out the Redblacks’ short-yardage unit. First play, quarterback sneak for no yards. Second play, quarterback sneak for no yards. Third play, field goal.
I have been scratching my head trying to figure out why they would (a) call back-to-back sneak plays from the two and then (b) kick the field goal instead of at least trying for the touchdown. Ottawa’s playoff hopes were hanging on by a thread — they are over now because of the loss — and choosing to kick a field goal from nine yards out screams giving up to me.
If you are going to run the sneaks, which was baffling in its own right, then at least take a shot on third down. But I still don’t know why they ran the sneaks. From the one, I get it. But from the two… with that offensive line… with nothing going on and your season being essentially over with a loss… none of it made sense. This year in Ottawa has exposed a lot of things, but one of the most surprising may be that Paul LaPolice isn’t as much of an offensive genius as we all thought.
Kam Kelly deserves his flowers
I like to use this space to talk about some of the unsung players on the team, guys who don’t get the media attention they probably should. A few weeks ago, I highlighted Cariel Brooks, the perennially underrated boundary halfback who has continued his stellar play. Today, I want to focus on a first-year player, linebacker Kameron Kelly.
Kelly spent the 2019 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, playing in 14 games for them, so his football pedigree is pretty good. He won the battle for the vacant SAM linebacker position out of training camp and while there have been some bumps along the road, he has settled into being one of the most reliable defenders on the team and could even make a run at the East Division’s all-star nod.
He had a couple nice pass breakups in this one, and has gotten better and more comfortable in his role as the season has progressed. We all know SAM is one of the toughest positions to master on a CFL defence, as you need defensive-back-level coverage skills with linebacker-level ferocity. Kelly has brought both in spades and the Ticats may have finally found their long-term answer at the position.
The Ticats did not come out of this game unscathed, as a trio of starters left the game due to injury. Bralon Addison was lost after a massive 61-yard catch on Hamilton’s first touchdown drive, Darius Ciraco was injured early with an undisclosed ailment and Maleek Irons, who got the start in place of an injured Sean Thomas Erlington, suffered an upper-body injury and didn’t play in the second half.
Hamilton has dealt with a number of injuries this season, Addison himself missed the start of the season, and as the team fights for playoff position in a suddenly crowded top of the East, having their players healthy will be key if they hope to make a run to the Grey Cup.
Race for first
Speaking of that race for first, are we ever in for a treat to close the season. I will be doing a much more in-depth breakdown of where the Argos, Als and Ticats stand as we head into the final four weeks of the season, but with just one game separating first from third, we are in for a heckuva finish to see who gets the bye.
It is not the spot the Ticats hoped to find themselves in at the start of the season, but it is where they are now. With two more home games, and a defacto home game in Toronto, the dreams of an all-home playoff run for the Tabbies is still very much on the table.