We knew going into the week that the game meant nothing to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but a day before the game we knew it meant nothing for either team.
The Riders were locked into the second seed in the West Division for the playoffs and thanks to a miraculous, come-from-behind 19-18 victory by the Ottawa Redblacks over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night, the Ticats were locked into the second seed in the East Division.
So with nothing to play for the plan for the game changed from must-win to tune-up, and even under those conditions the Ticats thrashed the visiting Riders 24-3 in front of a raucous Hamilton crowd.
It was a de facto pre-season game, with both teams playing a number of backups as it went along. Some, like Riders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo, didn’t even dress.
Hamilton got out to an early lead and never looked back. You can’t glean anything about either team from this game; the Ticats are probably not as good as they looked, nor are the Riders as bad. Both teams just wanted to leave the game healthy and for the most part each team was successful.
That said, the Ticats ended the season on a winning note after a dispiriting loss to the Argos the week prior, finishing the year at 8-6 and have a home date with the Alouettes on Sunday time for the right to head to Toronto to play for a Grey Cup spot.
It wasn’t the season we expected from the Black and Gold when we began in August, but if it ends as Hamiltonians hope then no one will care how they got there.
QB question still lingers
Jeremiah Masoli’s miserable performance against the Argos reignited the quarterbacking debate in Hamilton, with many calling for Dane Evans to take over the reins. I was not one of those people, and regardless of how either player performed on Saturday, a definitive answer would not be reach.
The facts are these: Masoli, who went 17-of-21 for 223 yards and one touchdown, outplayed Evans, who went 10-of-16 for 126 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The first of Evans’ two picks looked like a miscommunication — receiver Tim White never turned around to look for the ball — while the second one sailed over the intended receiver’s head.
The knock on Masoli, at least this season, is that he has feasted on mediocre teams and that won’t go away after he did all his damage against the Riders’ B-team. But Evans didn’t light the world on fire with his performance against the same secondary and tertiary players.
The QB question won’t go away, but for one week we got pretty solid proof that Masoli is still slightly ahead of Evans on the pecking order.
Record holder HOV
A man who sits behind no one, whether on the depth chart or the record books, is Simoni Lawrence. Lawrence became the all-time leader in tackles for the Ticats, surpassing the legendary Rob Hitchcock — who should be in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame — for that honour.
Lawrence will go down as one of the greatest Tiger-Cats of all time, and could be the Joe Montford or, dare I say it, Angelo Mosca of his generation. He is a likely Hall of Famer, a lock for the team’s Ring of Honour, and will go down as one of the greatest players of his era.
A touching tribute
Speaking of Mosca, as we all know the legendary Ticat passed away earlier this month, and Saturday’s game was the first Tiger-Cats home game since that happened.
During pre-game the video board at Tim Hortons Field played numerous Mosca videos, including the “10 Commandments of Ivor Wynne” that would play before games at the old stadium. There was also a touching tribute video played before kick-off and the surviving members of the Mosca family were given a standing ovation as they were introduced onto the field.
The Ticats’ defensive line ran out of the tunnel waving flags emblazoned with Mosca’s retired No. 68 and the team wore a No. 68 decal on their helmet for the second straight game while the end zone’s featured a black circle with 68 in the middle, and 10,000 No. 68 pins were sold to fans who made a donation to the Alzheimers Society of Hamilton.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little choked up watching the video tribute and seeing the Mosca family, including his son Angelo Jr. who carried his father’s old helmet, run onto the field. It was a touching tribute and a fitting way for fans of the team to get to say goodbye to the greatest Tiger-Cat of all time.
We have spent a lot of time talking about the regression of Brandon Banks this season, but we have not spent nearly enough time talking about the progression of some of the team’s younger receivers, Tim White and Steven Dunbar Jr. to be specific.
White, who had six catches for 83 yards against the Riders, finished the season as the Ticats’ leading receiver, while Dunbar Jr., who exploded onto the scene in Week 3 against the Alouettes, finished the game with five catches for a team-leading 89 yards.
Both players finished in the top 13 in receiving yards league-wide and joined by second-year man Jaelon Acklin, the Ticats finished as the only team in the league to have three players crack the top 13. Hamilton has always been able to find quality, young American receivers, and the emergence of White and Dunbar Jr. shows that yet again.
A chippy affair
For a game that meant precious little in the standings, this match-up was a particularly chippy affair. In total, 22 penalties were called for 237 yards, including six roughness penalties, three by each team. Things got particularly heated at halftime and after the game when the teams had to be separated by staff members from both sides. I can only imagine how physical these two teams will be with one another if they meet again in three weeks for something that actually matters.
Mak Henry is the player you think Simoni Lawrence is
Rider fans have had a bullseye on Lawrence’s back ever since his hit on Zach Collaros during the opening week in 2019. Since then, No. 21 has been public enemy No. 1 in Riderville. But instead of focusing on Lawrence, perhaps they should look inward at their own dirty player, Makana Henry.
Henry, not Lawrence, is the league’s dirtiest player. Lawrence gets the headlines because he’s a superstar, while Henry escapes the same type of criticism because he’s not close to the same calibre of player Lawrence is, and no one cares about Henry.
Henry, who has made a career out of cheap shots, took another one in this game, laying a hit on Masoli well after the whistle. It was late, unnecessary, and completely in line with how Henry has played his entire career. He is the player you all make Lawrence out to be.
Adeleke does it all
If this space handed out player of the game accolades, Tunde Adeleke would have been the runaway winner. Adeleke did a little of everything, making one tackle, one sack, one interception and two pass knockdowns. He was all over the field, and while the stat sheet might not say it, he was the best player on either team.
Kicking woes, part one billion
With the release of Taylor Bertolet, the Ticats handed the kicking duties back to Canadian Michael Domagala and the outcome was about as you would expect. Three made field goals on four attempts is much better than his season average, but is there anyone out there that is overly comfortable with him going into the do-or-die post-season?
Back-to-back winning records for the first time since… oh
With the Ticats finishing the season at 8-6, coupled with their 15-3 record from the last season, the Tabbies finish back-to-back seasons with a winning record for the time since 1998-1999.
For comparison’s sake, the Calgary Stampeders have finished under or at .500 just once since 2004. The Argos, who had the second-longest drought, last had back-to-back winning seasons in 2006-2007, which capped a stretch of four consecutive years where the Argos won 10 or more games — their best regular season run since Doug Flutie’s two-year stint in Toronto.
Hamilton’s Grey Cup drought is well known, but this run, which coincides with their Grey Cup drought, might be even more spectacular.
Dodging a weather bullet
Believe it or not, had there been no pandemic and the 2021 season was played as originally scheduled, this past Sunday would have been the Grey Cup. Instead, this weekend saw the end of the regular season, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a sporting event at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday.
Hamilton’s Forge FC played their Canadian Premier League semi-final matchup against 905 Derby rival York United in miserable conditions. From just before kick-off at 3 p.m. until after the game ended around 5 p.m. it rained, a lot.
I was out in it and let me tell you it was horrible. It wasn’t a downpour, but it was constant, and by the time I arrived home I was chilled to the bone. Worth it because Forge advanced to their third straight CPL Final and will have a chance to defend the North Star Shield and complete an impressive three-peat, but I digress.
It would have made for a terrible Grey Cup experience, so with the 2021 season being pushed back the league dodged a massive bullet. Maybe the conditions on December 12 won’t be much better, but no one would have wanted to sit out in Sunday’s weather except the most loyal of supporters.