11 thoughts on the Tiger-Cats’ thrilling preseason victory over Montreal

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

The ending to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ 25-23 preseason victory over the Montreal Alouettes was classic CFL.

The Ticats held the lead throughout most of the second half but surrendered their seven-point margin with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Montreal’s fourth quarterback of the night, Davis Alexander, scored on a QB sneak from one yard out. The ensuing two-point conversion to receiver Krishawn Hogan — who had a massive game catching 11 passes for 102 yards — was successful in both giving the Als a 23-22 lead and sending a large swath of the Tim Hortons Field crowd heading towards the exits.

But after a short kickoff and an irresponsible pass interference penalty by Montreal, the Ticats were lining up rookie Global kicker Tadhg Leader for the game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock.

The Galway, Ireland native split the uprights, the team stormed the field in jubilation, and the fans that stayed until the end left the stadium happy.

It was a classic CFL ending on a night that didn’t feature a lot of classic anything, but it was fun nonetheless.

Here are some more thoughts.

Sooooooooo… the secondary… ummmmm…

One of the most hyped-up units on the team throughout this offseason was the Ticats’ secondary and against a Vernon Adams-less Als offence, they got cooked.

Trevor Harris looked like prime Ricky Ray as he sliced and diced his way to 124 yards and one touchdown on nine-of-12 passing in a quarter’s worth of action. Every receiver seemed wide open and Harris made it look too easy.

The only reason Montreal ended the quarter with nine points instead of 14 was because Dylan Wynn blocked the convert on the Alouettes’ first scoring drive and a slightly high pass on second down from Harris to Reggie White Jr. forced the Als to kick a field goal instead of continuing their march down the field on another.

I don’t know if this tells us how good Trevor Harris is right now or how much worse Hamilton’s secondary is compared to what we all thought, but Ticats fans should be at least a tad bit concerned that the unit many thought would be the backbone of the defence looked so pedestrian in their first game together.

Daney Dimes returns

Unquestioned No. 1 quarterback Dane Evans only had two series to show his stuff on Saturday night, but his two series looked good to me.

Evans led a touchdown drive on his second and final drive of the game, looking poised in the pocket and decisive with his throws during both of his series under centre.

Evans got good protection from the starting offensive line — a change of pace from the less-than-stellar play I saw at some of the training camp sessions — and we saw the chemistry that Evans built with Bralon Addison in 2019 is still there.

He finished the game going four-of-five passing for 46 yards. That’s not eye-popping by any stretch of the imagination, but I saw enough from him to know that there should be no worries about how No. 9 will perform now that the franchise is on his back.

Dynamic Darby

Several players stepped up on Saturday, but maybe none more so than free-agent acquisition Alden Darby.

Darby, who arrived in Hamilton in the offseason after winning the Grey Cup in Winnipeg last season and spurning the Ottawa Redblacks in free agency, quickly became a fan favourite by spending the vast majority of the winter in the Hamilton community.

If there is a player who understands what being in the CFL is all about it is Alden Darby.

But favouritism only goes so far if you don’t produce on the field and Darby produced quite a bit on Saturday night, registering four defensive tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.

Darby played mostly with the second-unit defence against Montreal, but given the struggles that the starting secondary had on Saturday night, one of Hamilton’s prized free-agent acquisitions might have made life difficult for the defensive coaches.

Primetime players

Darby wasn’t the only Ticats player to make an impact on Saturday night.

Linebacker Kyle Wilson led the team in tackles with five and made a few highlight-reel plays. He had a couple of massive hits and looks like someone who will be a beast on special teams.

American rookie receiver Anthony Johnson had just two catches, but his first of the night was a nice catch-and-run on Hamilton’s early touchdown drive. Johnson was in the starting lineup on Saturday and did not look out of place at all. I don’t know if he can stay there when the season starts, but he should be able to find a spot on this team.

Running back Wes Hills was given a lot of chances to run the ball, getting a team-high nine carries, and he looked mostly good doing so — even if his per-carry average ended up being less than what you would hope. The Ticats committed to running the ball against Montreal, probably to see what guys could do. Of the running backs on the bubble, I thought Hills was the best.

Rookie Canadian receiver Kiondre Smith finished with just one catch for five yards, but he did have an impressive 30-yard catch wiped away by his own offside penalty. Smith has shown well in training camp and he looked pretty good in his first professional game.

Lastly, Canadian linebacker Nic Cross made a couple of really nice tackles during the team’s final defensive drive. Cross is a special teams demon but could be pushing for some playing time on defence with games like the one Saturday.

Punting on the punters

There is no nice way to put this: the Ticats’ punting game was an abomination against Montreal.

All three punters — returnee Joel Whitford and rookies Blake Hayes and Tadhg Leader — were atrocious. Only Whitford kicked a punt longer than 40 yards and all three ended the game with punt averages below 35 yards, with Hayes averaging just 27 yards on his two punts.

Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump could have punted better than that.

Going into training camp it was the placekickers that Ticats fans were most concerned about. After Saturday night’s game, the focus is now squarely on the punters.

Flag fest

The unintended consequence of the terrible punting we saw last night was the number of no-yards and illegal kick flags they spawned. Between the two teams, five such penalties were called, which equals 70 yards of field position given up.

Blake Hayes’ shanked punt from Hamilton’s 30 allowed the Als to start their ensuing drive on Hamilton’s 35-yard line. You don’t have to be a mathematician to see that equals a net of five yards.

The new no-yards rule might be the one that leads to more scoring. Every no-yards call being 15 yards is going to have a massive impact on field position. Keep an eye on this one as the season goes on.

Run the other way

Hamilton’s run defence looked outstanding against Montreal, allowing just 12 yards on the 16 carries totalled by all of the ball carriers for the Alouettes. Being stout against the run has been a hallmark of the Ticats’ defence the last couple of years and it looks like that will be the case again in 2022.

Screen pass

One thing we haven’t seen much of from the Ticats’ offence over the years — much to the chagrin of many fans — is a commitment to throwing screen passes. We saw it last night and despite the kinks you normally see during a standard preseason contest, you can tell the makings of a dynamic screen game are there.

The Ticats threw about three or four screen passes, and while they didn’t pick up the 15-plus-yard gains you would normally like to see, you can see those on the horizon.

Teams never show their full hand at this time of year, but I sure hope the Ticats will utilize the screen more in 2022 than they have in past seasons.

Saxelid injury

Kyle Saxelid came out of the game in the second quarter with what looked like a back injury and did not return to the game.

Whether he didn’t return because the plan wasn’t for him to return or because he couldn’t isn’t known at this point.

With Chris Van Zeyl still not practicing, this would be a massive loss for the Ticats as Saxelid had been starting at right tackle. The injury is something to keep an eye on this week and heading into the regular season.

Non-televised event

For the first time in a half-decade, the Ticats did not broadcast the team’s home preseason game on their website. With TSN opting not to show the game — which is a conversation for another time — that means there was no way to watch the game unless you had a ticket.

I am sorry, but it is 2022 and while I know that preseason football likely isn’t a large revenue generator, the idea that we can’t even get a live stream of the game anymore is a bit ridiculous. There is a video feed inside every CFL stadium and each team has a radio broadcast crew, so I don’t see why the matchups that TSN doesn’t want to show can’t be featured on the team’s website or YouTube channel.

Quick answers

In the lead-up to the Ticats’ first preseason game, I listed five questions I would like to see at least partially answered. How did those questions fair?

What will we see out of Jake Burt?
We didn’t see a lot of Jake Burt being featured in the passing game, but I did notice that he got on the field in the red zone and sprung a nice block on Matthew Shiltz’s big run in the second quarter. Unfortunately, I don’t know if we will get an answer to this one before the season starts, but it was nice to see Burt out there after the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 CFL Draft missed his entire rookie year with an injury.

Who is No. 3?
The battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot is still up in the air. Jalen Morton got more chances than Jamie Newman, but neither looked all that great.

Morton had a couple of nice runs on a pair of broken plays, including a touchdown, but I wasn’t overly impressed. He reminded me a lot of former Tiger-Cats’ pivot Quinton Porter in that it felt as if his first read wasn’t there, he would get happy feet and take off. The runs were nice, but I wanted to see more of what he could do in the passing game.

Newman threw just one pass after entering the game very late in the fourth quarter, but it won’t show up on the stat sheet as it induced the pass interference flag that set the Ticats up to kick the game-winning field goal.

Given the longer amount of time Morton was on the field it sure feels like he is in the lead to be the No. 3 quarterback. I hope we get to see more of Newman on Friday night against the Toronto Argonauts because I would hate to see him not get a chance to show the coaching staff what he can do in an actual game.

Who will make a name for themselves?
I listed five players here, and we have already discussed three of them in Anthony Johnson, Wes Hills and Kiondre Smith. The other two were American receiver Andre Boston and American defensive back Reggie Cole.

Andrew Boston didn’t get a ton of attention, having just one pass thrown his way and I didn’t notice Reggie Cole all that much, so the jury is still out on both of those players. Maybe we will get to see a little more of them come Friday.

Will a left tackle distinguish themselves
I saw nothing to indicate that Travis Vornkahl won’t be the starting left tackle when the Ticats open the regular season against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. While I hesitate to say any training camp battle is over with a week left and one preseason game remaining, this one feels as close to a sure thing as there is at this time of year.

Will the team finally find their kicker?
This was the biggest surprise to me because Michael Domagala was, by a country mile, the best kicker the Ticats had on Saturday night.

All three kickers had a chance to show their stuff and a lot of the headlines will feature Leader because of his game-winning kick, but if you take the entirety of the game into account I don’t think either other kicker came close to doing as well as Domagala.

Domagala’s two kickoffs went for over 70 yards on average whereas Seth Small’s lone kickoff went for just 47 yards, a clear advantage for the Canadian over the Texas A&M product that was signed late last week.

Domagala also had the longest field goal of the night at 49 yards, one yard longer than Small’s longest and significantly longer than Leader’s game-winner.

I didn’t think I would ever write these words, but this might now be Domagala’s job to lose.

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.