Tiger-Cats knew Jeremiah Masoli-Dane Evans QB tandem ‘wasn’t going to last forever’

Photo courtesy: Ryan McCullough/Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats spent the last two seasons with a pair of bona fide No. 1 quarterbacks in Dane Evans and Jeremiah Masoli, but despite that good fortune, the franchise knew it was not possible long-term.

“We knew that wasn’t going to last forever,” head coach Orlondo Steinauer said as rookie camp opened this week.

After a Most Outstanding Player nomination in 2018, Masoli looked poised to take his spot atop the CFL quarterback mountain in 2019. The Ticats were a scintillating 4-1 before Masoli’s season ended with a torn ACL in the first half of a Week 7 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Tim Hortons Field.

Evans, with just one previous start in his CFL career, took the reins and guided the Ticats to a franchise-best 15-3 mark and berth in the Grey Cup, where they would fall 33-12 to the same Blue Bombers Masoli’s season ended against.

Evans finished the 2019 season having completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 3,754 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while also adding 161 yards and three scores on the ground in 11 regular season starts. He was spectacular in the team’s East Final triumph over Edmonton but was less so in the team’s Grey Cup loss to the Bombers.

Entering the 2021 season, many wondered who would lead the Ticats: the man who got them to the Grey Cup the last time they played or the veteran who was runner-up for MOP the year before. The answer — at least to start the season — was the latter, as Masoli was named the team’s starter ahead of their Week 1 matchup with the Bombers in Winnipeg.

That didn’t stop the questions, which Steinauer admitted took energy out of him.

“That was a little draining last year,” said the 2019 Coach of the Year about answering the weekly questions regarding who his starter would be.

Those questions kept coming, especially as Masoli struggled to start the year, and a Week 2 injury paved the way for Evans to make the starting spot his own. Evans was on his way to doing just that until his own injury a few weeks later allowed Masoli to resume his role as QB1, a spot he held onto for the remainder of the season.

Playoff time saw Masoli play fine, but not spectacular, in the Ticats’ 23-12 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in the East Semi-Final. But after two rough series to start the East Final against the Toronto Argonauts, Steinauer made the decision to switch to Evans, who rewarded his coach with the game of a lifetime.

Finishing the game a perfect 16-of-16 for 249 yards and three total touchdowns, two on the ground, one through the air, Evans rallied the Ticats from a 12-point, second-half deficit to beat the Argos 27-19 and book a second straight trip to the Grey Cup.

But Evans himself was hurt early on in the championship game and Masoli was forced to come on in relief. Despite a valiant effort, the Ticats once again fell to the Bombers, this time 33-25 in overtime.

After the season, everyone knew the Ticats needed to make a choice and when they signed Evans to a multi-year contract extension in January the decision was loud and clear: the Ticats were now Dane Evans’ team.

Masoli was released and not long after he signed a contract to become the new starting quarterback in Ottawa with the East Division rival Redblacks.

Even though the Tabbies knew they couldn’t keep both Evans and Masoli, the black and gold were lucky to have both for as long as they did.

“We had two franchise quarterbacks,” Steinauer said, “and we were very fortunate to have them in the building.”

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.