Ticats save worst for second-to-last in loss to Argos

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (ticats.ca)

In the biggest game of the year, the Ticats came up with their worst performance of the season, dropping not only the game to the Argos by a score of 31-12, but ceding first in the division to their arch rivals and now their road to a home championship is the long one.

There were simply way too many errors, especially early on. Jeremiah Masoli overthrew receivers on long balls, Jackson Bennett had a costly drop on a deep pass that hit in right in the hands, and by halftime the Argos held a 14-0 lead.

Toronto was up 24-4 before the Ticats found the end zone for the only time in the game when it was way too late (and, in all honesty, this scribe had turned the game off to watch the Canada beat Costa Rica in a World Cup Qualifier by that point).

A pick-six from Chris Edwards was just the added salt to the proverbial wound, and now the Argos get the bye and the Ticats are forced to play the Alouettes in the East Semi-Final (location to-be-determined).

Masoli magic wears off

Yes, Masoli threw for over 300 yards, but this was a miserable performance from Hamilton’s QB1 and easily his worst since coming back from injury in September.

He threw his first two interceptions since Week 2, missed a number of deep passes, including one to Jaelon Acklin that would have been a walk-in touchdown, and despite some fairly good protection, didn’t seem like the Jeremiah Masoli we have grown accustomed to seeing.

It was unrealistic to think he was going to play the rest of the season without throwing an interception, but the ones in this game felt inevitable after we saw him overthrow receivers time and time again. He ran the ball well, which is a nice sign, but it provided little comfort with his throwing so poor.

He completed just 22-of-40 passes, his first game under 60 percent since Week 1, and his second touchdown-less game of the season, the other coming in their only other blowout loss of the season in Week 2 against Saskatchewan. When his numbers are being compared to the first two games of the season, you know it was a bad outing.

Dane time? Not yet

Following the game, many fans — including my own podcasting partner — were calling for Dane Evans to be handed the reins next week and into the playoffs. Personally, I believe that to be premature.

For starters, the last time we saw Evans was against the very same team Masoli struggled against on Friday night and he hardly looked great. He was 19-of-27 for 192 yards and the offence scored just 10 points while he was in the game. That was also before Chris Jones took over the Argos’ defence, so to say Evans would have been better isn’t entirely supported by the facts.

Secondly, another notion catching hold is the idea that Masoli “can’t win the big game,” which, fine, is a talking point, but it is also the laziest of talking points. Peyton Manning couldn’t win the big game… until he did. Henry Burris couldn’t win the big game… until he did. Michael Reilly couldn’t win the big game… until he did.

“Not winning the big one” is something a quarterback deals with until he finally does it. It’s also a vague idea considering there’s no metric to determine what constitutes “a big game.”

A must-win regular season game to clinch a playoff spot? Masoli has done that more that once. A playoff game? Masoli has won a couple of those. Or is winning a Grey Cup the only way to wash that can’t-win stench off a player? We need to either define what a big game is or we need to retire this overused, overly simplistic take.

Whiteout (with some Speedy on the side)

One area where the Ticats can take some solace is the emergence of Tim White in the receiving corps. White was given a chance when injuries decimated the Ticats to start the season, and his solid play led the team to release former Grey Cup MVP DeVier Posey earlier this year.

White was one of the only bright spots on Friday, catching five passes for 110 yards, eclipsing 100 yards for the first time in his CFL career. He now sits seventh in the league in receiving yards, ahead of former all-stars like Greg Ellingson and Derel Walker.

Unfortunately, White’s time with the Baltimore Ravens makes him ineligible for the team’s nomination for top rookie. Otherwise it would be a slam dunk.

Brandon Banks also had himself another decent outing, catching five passes for 82 yards. He’s still not the M.O.P. version of Speedy B we have come to expect, but it is the second game in a row where he has felt like a focal point of the offence, and that is a good sign as the Ticats head towards the playoffs.

Missing in Jackson

In the lead up to the game, a lot was made about the changing nature of the Ticats’ offence, with the insertion of running back Don Jackson adding a running element to the team’s attack. Jackson missed the game against the Argos and his absence was obvious.

Hamilton running backs carried the ball just 10 times for 44 yards, and Jeremiah Masoli was tied for the team lead in rushing yards with 37 on four carries. You can clearly see the difference with how the game is called by Tommy Condell when Jackson is and isn’t in the lineup.

If the Ticats are going to make noise in the playoffs, they will need a healthy Don Jackson to do so.

The ejection that was, but probably shouldn’t have been

Late in the second quarter, Hamilton linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox was ejected for rough play after the Argos scored their second touchdown of the game. Following the play, after TSN showed a replay of the entire Argos’ drive, we saw a very wide shot of Santos-Knox maybe hitting an Argos player.

We saw the Argos player flail like a Brazilian soccer player, but it was unclear what Santos-Knox was disqualified for. We even saw the ejected party mouth some harsh language following the announcement of his ejection.

It perhaps looked like Santos-Knox may have hit the Argo in the nether regions, but he also may have just bumped into him. It’s hard to say given the poor camera angle, but if it wasn’t a shot to the groin, I don’t really see how an ejection was warranted.

The pick that wasn’t, but probably should have been

Stavros Katsantonis was an underrated gem of the 2020 CFL Draft class — at least according to people who know — and as his first season in the pros has gone on he has seen his playing time increase.

He has been exceptional on special teams and now is beginning to make his mark on defence. Or at least he’s tried.

The man known as the “Bakersfield Bandit” has had a couple of chances to live up to the nickname with some near takeaways, including an interception against the Argos that, at least from this vantage point, was incorrectly ruled an incomplete pass.

Katsantonis dove for an errant McLeod Bethel-Thompson pass and seemed to secure the ball, but replay reversed it to an incomplete pass despite the fact that it looked like the ball contacting the ground did not help Katsantonis maintain possession.

Alas, the Bandit didn’t get his first defensive takeaway of his career, but when it finally does do not act surprised. Hamilton has been able to find mid-to-late-round gems in recent CFL drafts, and the Bandit seems to be the next one.

Kicking cans

It is obviously far too late in the season to make a change, but one of the areas the Ticats will need to address in the off-season is kicker. We have seen both Michael Domagala and Taylor Bertolet show that they simply are not good enough to be kicking at the pro level.

Bertolet is, statistically speaking, the worst kicker in the league. His 67.6 per cent conversion rate is worst among all kickers with at least 20 attempts. I don’t even know what else to say about it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If the Ticats get in a close game in the playoffs and need a clutch kick to win the game, I have zero faith the kick will be successful.

The Gittens is good

Switching to the Argos for a second, anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for a good Canadian receiver. Some of my favourite players in CFL history are Canadian receivers and the Argos have a potential great one in Kurleigh Gittens Jr.

The second-year man out of Wilfrid Laurier has broken out big time in 2021. He is second on the Argos in yards (605), third in receptions (50), and tied for first in touchdown catches (four), and is a shoo-in as the Argos’ nominee for top Canadian. The CFL is better when there are star Canadians playing at marquee positions, and Gittens is a star in the making.

The long way home

The Argos have now locked up first in the East Division, which means the Ticats have to take the long route back to Tim Hortons Field for the Grey Cup on Dec. 12. The road could get even longer depending on what happens in the final week of the regular season.

Thanks to the Blue Bombers resting a number of starters, the Montreal Alouettes kept their hopes alive for a home playoff game, but thanks to the Riders beating a terrible Elks squad, the Ticats have a potentially easier opponent than we thought.

For Hamilton, the math is simple: beat the Riders on Saturday afternoon and you will host the East Semi-Final. The Ticats could also secure second in the East before even playing if the Ottawa Redblacks somehow find a way to beat the Alouettes on Friday night (Ottawa is currently a 12.5-point underdog, so we all know how likely that is).

If the Als win and the Ticats lose, Montreal will host the game and the Ticats will need to do something that hasn’t been done since 1970: get to the Grey Cup as the No. 3 seed in the East Division.

Working in the Ticats’ favour, however, is the fact that the Riders have nothing to play for after securing their own home playoff date with a Week 15 win over the Elks. That means a number of banged-up players could sit, as well as players like starting quarterback Cody Fajardo could be rested to ensure their health going into what will surely be a physical West Semi-Final against the suddenly hot Calgary Stampeders.

Regardless of what happens in Week 16, the Ticats now must take the long way home.

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.