‘This has been my toughest mental season ever’: Ticats’ struggles have taken a toll on QB Dane Evans

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

With his team currently outside the CFL’s playoff picture with six games remaining, all the losing is taking a toll on Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ quarterback Dane Evans.

“This has been my toughest mental season ever in my life in any sport,” Ticats’ quarterback Dane Evans told the media in Hamilton on Friday. “Growing up, all I did was play sports and I’ve never had one quite like this.”

Injuries, poor play and a cavalcade of errors see the team four points back of the Montreal Alouettes for second in the division and six points behind the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who look all but assured of a crossover spot.

After struggling early in the year, Evans has missed three of the team’s last four games while dealing with a shoulder injury. His lone appearance in the last month was a disastrous one against the East-leading Toronto Argonauts, when Evans committed four turnovers in the team’s 37-20 loss.

Hamilton’s once presumed franchise pivot will return to the lineup against the vaunted Winnipeg Blue Bomber on Saturday afternoon. This will be the first meeting between the two teams at Tim Hortons Field since last season’s thrilling Grey Cup clash, which saw the Bombers defeat the Ticats to claim their second consecutive championship.

“Health-wise, I’m as good as I’m going to be,” said Evans. “It’s finally just normal soreness, like ‘full week of practice soreness.’ Nothing to be alarmed about.”

His team’s play has been alarming all season, as they sit on the precipice of missing the playoffs for the first time since the tumultuous 2017 season. That year brought major changes to the organization, most notably Kent Austin stepping down as head coach and replacing himself with June Jones. The Ticats also made a change at quarterback, benching Zach Collaros and handing the reins over to Jeremiah Masoli.

Despite the team missing the playoffs that year, that version of the Ticats ended the season with six wins in their final ten games, providing some semblance of hope for the future. In the five years that followed, Hamilton made three straight trips to the East Division Final and earned themselves two Grey Cup berths.

That dominant run looks to be coming to an end this year and the wholesale changes that followed the 2017 crash could repeat, as something has to be done to get the Ticats back to their spot at the top of the division.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity at key positions, but we feel like we’ve had opportunities in every football game. In some we weren’t able to capitalize, some we let slip away,” Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said to the media in Hamilton this week.

“We always credit the opponent for making their plays but we feel like if we were able to make our plays in a timely manner things may be different.”

Unfortunately for the franchise, things have not been different and the Ticats have found themselves making some of the same mistakes over and over, with a lot of that falling at the feet of their starting quarterback.

The same man who has led the franchise to back-to-back title game appearances has also been one of the main culprits of the team’s fall from grace in 2022. Evans has accounted for 19 of the team’s league-worst 41 turnovers and is a major reason why the Tabbies have an unfathomable -23 turnover differential this season, unsurprisingly also worst in the league.

Following some of these mistakes, we have seen frustration boil over with Evans, something the veteran gunslinger knows he has to fix.

“Typically, I have been pretty good [at putting the last play behind me] but this season that has for sure been something I have to work on more,” Evans stated. “I think having the bye week this last week and being able to reset, I’m starting to feel more like my old self so I would expect that to come along with it.”

In some ways, Evans believes he may have been shouldering too much of the load during the team’s poor start earlier this year and says that could be part of the reason for his struggles.

“I was trying to do too many things and now I’m just back to doing what I do and being me.”

The team’s head coach sees things similarly.

“He looks like Dane,” Steinauer stated. “He’s making all the throws. He’s back in charge. He’s always going to be able to make all the throws. That’s a given with Dane.”

If Evans can get back to being the player we saw the last two seasons, the Tiger-Cats will be in fine hands. If not, then some hard questions will need to be asked.

With Hamilton once again hosting the Grey Cup in 2023, the Ticats can ill-afford to be a doormat again next season.

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.