‘He’s got a bright future in this league’: gutsy relief effort by rookie Jamie Newman draws praise following Ticats’ victory

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats needed a two-quarterback system to secure victory over the Toronto Argonauts in Week 10 but this time it wasn’t intentional.

Offensive coordinator Tommy Condell had been making waves the last several weeks for his use of both starter Dane Evans and backup Matthew Shiltz during game action — sometimes simultaneously. However, with Evans on the one-game injured list due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first part of a Battle of Ontario home-and-home series, the Ticats were expected to roll with only the veteran Shiltz under centre in the rematch.

Those plans changed abruptly after halftime when Shiltz was suddenly unable to return to the game. The 29-year-old was spotted on the sidelines following the intermission surrounded by trainers and escorted back to the locker room under mysterious circumstances, suffering what he later described as a flare-up of an undisclosed lower-body injury.

That thrust 24-year-old rookie Jamie Newman into the spotlight with the team down 21-14.

“Jamie came in and played really well. He had some big plays for us and handled his situation as good as I’ve seen anybody handle that,” Shiltz praised his teammate while addressing the Hamilton media post-game. “It was truly a team effort and was just so proud of the way everybody fought and played.”

Newman threw just two passes in relief, completing both for four yards, but kept his team competitive by setting up a field goal with his rushing ability. The highly-touted Wake Forest product took a beating but finished as the team’s leading rusher, carrying seven times for 55 yards and a short-yardage touchdown from the first half.

“When you’re going to run it like that and they know it, you’re going to take shots. But also little things that nobody talks about; he took care of the football also,” head coach Orlondo Steinauer told reporters.

“He’s tough and Jamie showed great poise in the preseason, which is kind of why he was there. We have another great one in Jalen Morton behind that we were prepared maybe to use in short yardage situations if Jamie had to finish, which is the way we were trending.”

Team medical staff had indicated that Shiltz would not be able to return to the contest but the quarterback defied the odds after missing the entire third quarter. Asked about it afterwards, the pivot indicated his status was never really in question.

“No. I mean, not in my mind,” he quipped. “I’m going to go out there and play. It’s just kind of how I’m wired.”

Shiltz’s return paved the way for a 17-point fourth-quarter surge by Hamilton that began with a 60-yard strike to receiver Tim White. The Ticats would go on to win 34-27 as their top signal-caller completed 14-of-19 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“I can’t say enough great things about Matt,” Steinauer raved. “It’s one of the reasons that we went after him in the offseason. We thought he was a guy that showed poise, played in big games, and as we spoke to him in the offseason while courting him in free agency, it became very apparent that he was a natural leader.”

For his part, Shiltz was filled with praise for Newman, whose impact did not diminish once the man in front of him on the depth chart. The six-foot-four, 230-pound dual-threat passer rattled off a 30-yard run in short yardage late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown, earning rave reviews from his teammate.

“We talk about it in the quarterback room all the time; you’ve just got to be ready. Whether you’re starting, whether you’re the backup, you’ve got to be a microwave when you go in there,” Shiltz said, alluding to the ability to turn on the heat instantly.

“The way he was able to go in there, make some big plays in the third quarter and then make those plays in the fourth quarter on that big run there on the short yardage to set us up for a touchdown was incredible. He’s got a bright future in this league.”

Once projected as a potential NFL first-round pick before an unfortunate gamble to opt out of his senior season backfired, Newman is still a long way away from where he hoped he would be at this stage in his career.

Nevertheless, his unexpected impact could have major ramifications as the Ticats look to turn around their difficult season.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.