Why the Tiger-Cats lost the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton

Photo courtesy: Ryan McCullough/Ticats.ca

‘Wait until next year’ has been an all-too-popular saying in Hamilton for the last two-plus decades.

Despite holding a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Ticats still found a way to lose the 108th Grey Cup on home turf 33-25 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

For Hamilton fans, who made up the vast majority of the over 26,000 people in attendance at Tim Hortons Field, this loss will be a tough one to take. Despite the Bombers being the best team by far in 2021, the Ticats not only hung with them, but outplayed them for most of the night. Hamilton’s defence was excellent early and the offence found its rhythm as the game went on. It was the best we have seen Hamilton play on the big stage in any of its recent Grey Cup appearances.

However, it was all for naught, as the Bombers chipped away at the Ticats lead as the offence went as cold as the night breeze came and the defence couldn’t maintain its level of play. The Bombers proved their championship mettle and the Ticats lost in the Grey Cup once again.

But why?

Why did a team that held a 12-point lead with 12 minutes left end up losing the game in overtime?

There are plenty of reasons the Ticats title drought now extends to a 23rd year. Here are the main ones.

The Bombers were better

I want to get this one out of the way early, because I can already hear the cries from people reading this. So the obvious one that needs no elaborating is Winnipeg was the best team in the CFL this year and deserved to win the Grey Cup. That doesn’t always happen, especially in football, but for once the best team all year was crowned champions.

Nine points

A week ago, one of the reasons many pointed to as to why the Ticats beat the Argos was Toronto deciding to twice kick field goals inside Hamilton’s five-yard line. The Ticats, seemingly not learning from that, did the same thing against Winnipeg, except they did it three times.

In the second and fourth quarters Michael Domagala had field goals of 13, 10 and 13 yards. The last of which came to tie the game and send it to overtime, which is understandable, but the other two, especially the one at the start of the fourth quarter to make a nine-point lead a 12-point one were questionable.

The Bombers had the wind in the fourth and with how good Hamilton’s defence had played up to that point — they had held the league’s highest-scoring offence to just 10 points and zero touchdowns — taking the chance from the two-yard line would have been the right call. Score the touchdown, make the lead 16 or 17 point, depending if they went for two, which I would have done, and the party is still going on in Hamilton as you read this. Don’t get it, the lead is still two scores and the Bombers are buried deep. The benefit of going for the touchdown was higher than the downside of making a two score lead a bigger two score lead.

Conceding singles

Tim White is an American. Tim White is a rookie. Tim White hadn’t done a lot of kick-off returns for the Ticats this year, he had one return for 18 yards prior to Sunday. Tim White was likely told to concede the single after the Bombers took a 24-22 lead late in the fourth quarter.

On paper, the decision makes sense given the field position advantage that was gained and the time left on the clock. But to take a two-point lead and turn it into a three-point lead ensures a field goal can’t win you the game. The Ticats marched almost the entire length of the field and made that single point moot, but they didn’t, forcing overtime instead of kicking a chip shot field goal for the win.

Hamilton conceding not one, but two singles, the first of which was slightly unavoidable in that it hit White’s hands and he was forced to concede, was a major factor in them walking away with the loss. Had White just let the ball go over his head the kick likely goes out the back of the end zone untouched, meaning no single conceded and the same field advantage. It was a lapse in judgment by White, likely brought on by the coaching staff, and it came at the absolute worst time.

Acklin’s drop

White’s single gaffe would have been irrelevant had Jaelon Acklin managed to come down with a catch on the Ticats’ last play from scrimmage in regulation. Hamilton, against the wind I might add, marched the field on the vaunted Bombers’ defence and was three yards away from winning the game. Blaming a loss on one dropped pass is hardly fair, but had Acklin hauled that pass in, one that was not all that difficult to corral, the Ticats are champions.

Howsare’s penalty

Hamilton did an excellent job all game containing Andrew Harris, and after limiting him to just three yards on the first play in overtime, the Ticats had a chance to force a field goal. But Julian Howsare jumped offside, turning a second-and-seven into a second-and-two and from there the Bombers rolled. If Howsare stays onside do the Ticats get a stop? Maybe, maybe not, but the difference between converting from seven yards versus two yards is not insignificant.

Overtime coverage

Hamilton saved their two worst defensive plays for the final two plays they were on the field. Both Darvin Adams and especially Rasheed Bailey were wide open on their touchdown and two-point conversion, respectively, in overtime.

It was eerily reminiscent of a similar play in an overtime playoff game featuring the Ticats that occurred more than 12 years ago, when Hamilton had just 11 men on the field and the B.C. Lions scored a touchdown in overtime to put them up in the 2009 East Semi-Final played at old Ivor Wynne Stadium. For a defence that was excellent most of the game, to give up two easy scores like that was deflating.

Revenberg’s penalty

Hamilton still had a chance and their first play from scrimmage in the extra period looked great as Don Jackson took a handoff and scampered 12 yards. Unfortunately, the play was called back due to a hold on all-star guard Brandon Revenberg. It was at that moment I knew the Bombers would win.

The Ticats had two more plays, but on second-and-18, Jeremiah Masoli threw what could be his final pass as a Tiger-Cat, a tipped ball that was intercepted by Kyrie Wilson and that was ball game. Had Revenberg not been called for holding who knows how the game would have ended, but when he was it felt like the penultimate nail in Hamilton’s coffin.

Blowing a double-digit lead

At the end of the day, we can nitpick all the reasons why the Ticats lost, but the simple fact is they had a 12-point lead with 12 minutes left at home in front of a boisterous crowd and lost.

We had seen this story play out before twice — Hamilton coughed up double-digit leads to both the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts in back-to-back weeks this year — but to watch them do it on the biggest stage was a massive gut punch.

It might be hyperbolic to say, but this loss might be the single worst in team history. At home in front of a highly partisan crowd with a two-score lead in the fourth quarter and the long-sought-after championship within their grasp. I can’t think of a more heart wrenching defeat in Tiger-Cats history than this one.

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.