On Friday night in front of a raucous crowd at Tim Hortons Field, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats became a real-life version of the “Roll Safe” meme.
You know what one it is, where actor Kayode Ewumi taps his temple. People use it on social media quite a bit. You have definitely seen it, if not used it yourself.
The Ticats were that on Friday, tapping their temple to say, “You can’t give up a halftime lead if you don’t have the lead at halftime.”
In a rare occurrence this season, the Tiger-Cats ended the first half of play down 21-14. When forced to play catchup, the seemingly impossible happened: they won.
The Tiger-Cats outscored their arch-rivals the Toronto Argonauts 20-6 in the second half to win 34-27 and even the season series between the two teams at one game apiece.
Forced to start their backup quarterback, missing their most reliable pass-catcher and having to start three Canadians in the receiving corps — including a rookie making his first career start — the Ticats had all the reason in the world to fold to the first-place Argos.
Instead, the Cats played perhaps their most complete game of the season to send the majority of the 23,018 fans in attendance home with smiles on their faces.
It was as gutsy a performance as this team has had all season and one that showed that even when faced with adversity, there is no quit in this team.
Here are some of my other thoughts on a fun night in the Hammer.
Officiating in the CFL is easy to pick apart. The referees in this league are among the most scrutinized and demonized in any sport in the world. When they make the types of errors they made on Friday night, it is hard not to give them the gears.
There were numerous awful calls, with one of the worst being a roughing the passer flag on Dylan Wynn late in the first half. Wynn blew by his blocking and had a free shot at McLeod Bethel-Thompson, which the Ticats’ defensive lineman took about a half of a step after the Argos’ quarterback let go of the ball. The refs called the penalty and Tiger-Cats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer challenged but the flag was ultimately upheld.
As the replay was being shown, TSN analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Dunigan noted, “That’s just a great play… but the letter of the law says you can’t put a finger on the quarterback these days.”
I am all for trying to make the game safer but if hits like that are now considered roughing penalties, they might as well just start playing flag or two-hand touch.
Just three plays later and the Ticats were flagged again, this time for a ridiculous pyramiding call on linebacker Kameron Kelly. The broadcast call of this was even more illuminating, as play-by-play man Rod Smith explained how the call was for using a teammate or opponent to artificially elevate oneself in order to block the kick. That was immediately undercut by a replay that showed Kelly jumping under his own power and being blocked by a pair of Argos, causing a dumb-founded Dunigan to blurt out “Wha… he just jumped up.” It made me chuckle.
It seems weird to penalize a player for trying to do something athletic in an athletic contest but maybe that’s just me.
Friday’s game featured 21 combined penalties for 248 yards and while Argos-Ticats games tend to be chippy affairs, this one felt like the officials attempting to make the game about themselves.
Al Bradbury is universally considered the worst refer in the league but it seems as if Tom Vallesi and his crew are looking to take the crown.
If last week was a total team failure, then Friday night was a total team success and nobody better exemplifies that than Hamilton’s electric return man Lawrence Woods.
Woods has had a very good start to his CFL career and against the Argos, he may have had his most impactful game. Woods was dynamic in the return game, collecting six punts for 153 yards and three kickoffs for 69 yards. His numbers would have been even better if not for a ticky-tack holding call on Micah Johnson — another flag that probably should not have been thrown — that negated an 87-yard return touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter.
Woods has had his ups and downs, with last week’s decision to field a punt at the one-yard line being a particularly noteworthy error, but he has mostly been excellent as a rookie. That was on full display in Hamilton’s third win of the season.
No controversy here
There was a growing feeling in the lead-up to the game that if Matthew Shiltz played well, we could see a full-blown quarterback controversy in Hamilton.
Shiltz performed adequately, completing 73.7 percent of his passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but I think any thought that the Ticats would bench Dane Evans — who missed Friday’s game with a shoulder injury — to start Shiltz can be put to bed.
You could clearly see the limitations faced by the offence while Shiltz was under centre, with the team going to a more run-based attack. That tactic worked well against the double blue, but the black and gold are not built for pounding the rock 20-plus times a game.
Shiltz can be a fine replacement for a few weeks and he definitely played a role in the Ticats winning on Friday night, but he is not the type of quarterback a team can build its franchise around. He gives much more competent play than the team had a year ago when they were forced to start David Watford for two weeks but Shiltz is never going to be an every-down player.
Matthew Shiltz was not the only Tiger-Cats quarterback to get a significant run with the team, as rookie Jamie Newman was forced into action when Shiltz missed the entire third quarter dealing with a lower-body injury.
The Tabbies did not ask Newman to do much — he threw just two passes for four yards — and the team relied heavily on his legs to keep the offence on the field. The Wake Forest product led a scoring drive during his first series that cut the Argos’ lead to 21-17 and did a good job eating up the clock in a quarter that has been notoriously poor for the black and gold.
Newman won’t win any player of the week awards for his performance but he was steady when called upon and did his part to keep the team in the game.
Run and shun
Hamilton’s plan of attack against the Argos was clear for the start: they were going to run the ball down their throat.
Five different ball carriers combined for 149 yards on 21 carries. This was, by far, the team’s best rushing effort of the season. The Ticats have run more times in previous games but the 7.1 yards per carry the team averaged against Toronto far outpaced anything they have done this year.
My one criticism of the rushing attack is the lack of use Don Jackson saw, especially in the second half. Jackson was playing a typically good game early but finished with just nine total touches — seven rushed, two receptions — and none of them came in the fourth quarter.
Jackson is the team’s most dynamic weapon in the short game and the team needs to find a way to get him more involved.
Swagga like HOV
A lot has been made of Simoni Lawrence’s slow start to the season, especially after one of his former coaches called him out back in July, which prompted an eviscerating response from the Ticats’ heart and soul.
Injuries have derailed the future Hall of Famers season as well and Lawrence briefly left Friday’s game with what looked like a possible re-aggravation of his groin injury. When he was on the field, he played like a man possessed.
Lawrence had his best game of the season, finishing in a tie with fellow linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox for the team lead in tackles with six and making several key plays that kept the Argos’ offence at bay.
This is the Simoni that the Ticats have needed and this is the Simoni that the Ticats will rely on as they continue to try to get their season back on track.
Markham’s very own
Anyone who has read any of my stuff since training camp should know that I have become very high on Ticats’ rookie receiver Kiondre Smith. I think second-generation players — of which Smith is one following in the footsteps of his father, longtime Argos’ defensive back Adrion “Pee Wee” Smith — have an advantage over their competition because they have a wealth of information at their disposal.
Smith saw his first start against his dad’s old team and did not disappoint, tying for the team lead in receptions with four and finishing second on the team in receiving yards with 39. He also caught a two-point conversion attempt in the second quarter.
After just one start and eight career receptions, it would be foolish to assume the University of Guelph product will become a superstar, face-of-the-league-type player. But given what we have seen from him, I expect Smith to have a long career.
There may be no more intense player in the CFL than Dylan Wynn.
Off the field, Wynn is one of the nicest people you could ever meet but on it, he is a total maniac, just oozing the type of old-school toughness that makes him the perfect player for this franchise.
Against Toronto, Wynn wreaked havoc on all who crossed his path. The stat sheet does not tell the whole story. Wynn was part of a punishing Ticats’ front four that made life miserable for McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Pairing Wynn with Micah Johnson has really started to produce results lately. Johnson had another two sacks against the Argos, his second multi-sack game in the last three weeks, and he has now doubled his total on the season.
The duo also paved the way for another excellent night of run stuffing. With the caveat that Andrew Harris left the game early, the Ticats held the Argos to just 69 yards rushing on 16 carries. The presence of Wynn and Johnson is the biggest reason why teams have had such a hard time establishing the run against the Tiger-Cats in 2022.
There are a lot of good defensive tackle partnerships in the CFL this season but I would put Wynn and Johnson up there with any of them.
Friday night was a special night in Hamilton as the team welcomed back Brandon Banks and Ja’Gared Davis for the pair’s game at Tim Hortons Field since both left to wear Argos’ colours in free agency.
The Ticats showed a touching tribute video to Banks, who acknowledged the crowd after the video finished. It highlighted some of Banks’ best moments in black and gold, and the fans showed their love for the 2019 Most Outstanding Player.
On the field, neither player really provided much. Banks caught two passes for 27 yards while Davis had just one tackle, continuing his season-long slump. Banks was targeted eight times in the game, but the chemistry simply does not seem to be there with his new quarterback. More than a couple of the throws to Speedy B looked to have fallen incomplete due to a lack of communication between him and Bethel-Thompson.
A week after controversy arose around possible fake crowd noise being pumped into BMO Field, the Hamilton faithful showed what real crowd noise sounds like.
Friday night had a playoff atmosphere to it, most of which could be chalked up to who the visitor was. There were multiple chants of “Argos suck” and late in the game the fans in attendance were at their loudest.
Friday’s win was a full team effort and that team included the 23,000-plus in the stands.
One of the biggest knocks on the CFL is their lack of ingenuity when it comes to marketing the game. Many observers point to Formula One Racing’s Netflix series as a way to create new fans.
Kudos now needs to be given because the oldest rivalry in Canadian football, Hamilton vs. Toronto, is getting its own documentary titled Rivalries: The QEW Series that will air this fall.
— UNINTERRUPTED Canada 🇨🇦 (@UNCanada) August 11, 2022
There is a lot of debate over which CFL rivalry is the most intense and all of them have their own merits, but growing up in this area of the country before spending much of my 20s in the other city makes this one feel a little more special to me.
I hope this is not a one-and-done initiative either. We need documentaries detailing two of the other great rivalries in the CFL: Calgary vs. Edmonton and Saskatchewan vs. Winnipeg.
One of the little-known features of the Argos-Ticats rivalry is that the winner of the season series between the teams has received a trophy since 1986. That trophy is the Ballard Cup, named after former Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard.
Ballard, to be kind, was not a nice man. He was belligerent, mean, and spent a year in prison on a fraud conviction. While that might sound like someone who could be the President of the United States of America, it is not someone that should have his name etched on a trophy for a sporting event.
I say we should get the ball rolling on renaming the Ballard Cup, which in all honesty isn’t a cup at all but a golden football glued to the top of a block of wood, and my preferred choice would be christening it the Ralph Sazio Trophy.
For those that do not know, Ralph Sazio was the Tiger-Cats head coach from 1963-1967 and was later general manager and president of the team until he left the organization in 1981 to become president of the Toronto Argonauts, a position he would hold until 1990. Sazio was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and also named to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Wall of Honour in 2003.
It is time to put the Ballard Cup out to pasture and rechristen the trophy given to the winner of the Hamilton-Toronto season series as the Sazio Cup.
A family affair
One of the most fun aspects of sitting in the stands where I do at Tim Hortons Field is the chance to interact with the families of away team players. Those interactions are not always great but that was not the case on Friday night, as I had the pleasure of sitting behind the family of Argos’ rookie running back Daniel Adeboboye.
There has been a lot of contentiousness amongst Tiger-Cats and Argonauts fans the last couple of weeks but my interactions with the Adeboboye family was a clear reminder that sports are meant to be fun and enjoyable. After the game, we all shook hands and left with a good memory. That is what this game and this league is all about.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats get a one-week respite from the battle of the Queen Elizabeth Way and instead make their first trip to La Belle Province to take on the Montreal Alouettes.
The Als shocked the world on Thursday night, handing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers their first loss of the season, so they will enter Saturday afternoon’s game against the Ticats brimming with confidence.
Both teams sit tied for second in the East Division with 3-6 records, just two points back of the first-place Argonauts. With Toronto playing host to the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday evening, the winner of the Ticats-Alouettes clash could find themselves in a tie for first place when the night is over.
Things have not gone well for either team so far this season but a win on Saturday would thrust the victor right back into the race for the top spot in the division. That should make for a fun contest between the two sides.