Reversing the misery at McMahon: 16 thoughts on the Ticats’ thrilling 35-32 victory over the Stamps

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Where were you on July 4, 2004?

That was the last time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats went into Calgary and defeated the Stampeders.

Until Friday night.

In a thriller that displayed all the hallmarks of a classic CFL contest, the Ticats finally ended their nearly two decades of misery at McMahon by beating the Stamps 35-32.

It was not always pretty, especially early, but the Tabbies showed the intestinal fortitude needed to accomplish something no Hamilton team had done since Danny McManus was behind centre.

Every unit of the team came through and the Ticats, now winners of three of their last four — all over West Division teams, I might add — are firmly in the driver’s seat to pick up the sixth and final playoff spot for 2022.

Here are more thoughts.

Himothy, not Timothy

After a six-catch, 106-yard, one-touchdown performance, I think it is fair to say that Tiger-Cats’ receiver Tim White is the team’s Most Outstanding Player for 2022.

His season got off to a tough start but since a one-catch, six-yard output against the Toronto Argonauts at the start of August, the second-year speedster has been on fire. White has caught 50 passes for 720 yards and six touchdowns in his last eight games. He has four 100-plus-yard games in his last seven outings after having just one in the previous nine games.

White’s two catches on the team’s final drive — a 42-yard bomb into the wind in double coverage and the go-ahead touchdown with 11 seconds left in the game — were as clutch as clutch can be.

Coming up with a Most Outstanding Player candidate for a team that was 3-9 at one point is tough but after Friday’s game, there is only one man worthy of the accolade.

The story that wasn’t

The story of Friday’s game was written until it wasn’t. Fluky bounces, too many mistakes and curious coaching decisions were going to lead off this column until the Ticats pulled off a last-second miracle.

But that does not mean those errors should not be discussed, and we especially have to touch on a pair of coaching decisions late in the game that could have had, and nearly did have, disastrous repercussions.

The most egregious one was a decision by the black and gold to run a shotgun handoff on third-and-one from inside their own 25-yard line with two minutes left in the game while nursing a one-point lead.

I have zero issues with the Ticats going for the first down, trusting their offence to pick up a single yard and keeping the ball. I think that was the right call and would support that in every instance. The problem was not the decision but the play call. Running with Wes Hills was smart but running him from a shotgun formation is just sheer lunacy, regardless of what head coach Orlondo Steinauer said after the game.

What makes the decision even more curious is earlier in a similar situation with the ball around midfield, the team opted to punt. I like aggressive coaching and wish more coaches would coach to win as opposed to coaching not to lose, but that pair of decisions could have had dire consequences.

The one who Knox

If Tim White is the team’s slam dunk M.O.P. nominee, then linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox is etched in stone to be the team’s top defensive player.

While Simoni Lawrence understandably gets all the headlines when he’s healthy, his battery mate is the one who is putting up all the numbers.

Against the Stamps, the former Elk and Blue Bomber lead the team with 10 tackles. That gave him the first 100-tackle season of his CFL career — his previous high was 82 in 2018 with Winnipeg.

Absent the normal leaders for large stretches of the season due to injury, Santos-Knox has stepped up to become one of the team’s most dependable and reliable players. When all is said and done in 2022, the five-year veteran should get his first-ever team nomination for Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

Missing Micah

When the news broke that Micah Johnson would miss Friday’s game due to the birth of his child, almost everyone knew the Tiger-Cats’ ability to keep Stamps’ running backs Ka’Deem Carey and Peyton Logan was going to be tested.

The Ticats failed that test.

The Tabbies, who averaged a league-best 77.5 yards rushing against per game entering Friday’s matchup, allowed the Stamps to gash them for 183 yards on the ground, which was obviously the most the team had given up in a game this season.

Johnson is expected back next week and would have played this week if he could have made it to Calgary in time, but the team will be without Dylan Wynn for the rest of the season. The Ticats are one injury away from having a lot of work to do to stop the William Stanbacks of the league come playoff time.

Night-Maier factory

Jake Maier has done a lot of good things for the Stampeders this year, enough to deserve the two-year extension he received last month to make him the team’s starting quarterback going forward.

Friday night against the Tiger-Cats, however, was a nightmarish performance.

Maier threw three interceptions, two to Richard Leonard, one of which he returned for a touchdown. All of them were momentum swingers for the opposition.

Maier threw his first on the team’s first possession, his second on a terrible back-foot throw on Calgary’s second possession that took points off the board and the third, the one returned for a touchdown, gave the Ticats a spark when they had nothing going for them at the time.

There were calls to replace him at halftime with former starter Bo Levi Mitchell but that was never going to happen. For better to worse the Stamps are now Maier’s team and despite him probably waking up with terror sweats thinking about Leonard, it’s been mostly for the better.

Major miscues and mistakes

Despite the outcome, the black and gold spent a not inconsiderable amount of time making their own massive mistakes, any one of which could have cost them the game.

It started early when Dane Evans missed an open Steven Dunbar Jr. for what would have been an easy touchdown on the team’s opening drive. Evans missed Dunbar high, something that has become a little too commonplace with him this season.

On Calgary’s first touchdown, defensive back Cariel Brooks committed an unnecessary pass interference that extended the drive and on the touchdown throw newcomer Cedric Wilcots II lost track of William Langlais.

The Tabbies also had a special teams gaffe when the Stamps successfully executed a short kickoff following a third-quarter touchdown drive. Hamilton’s return team, namely Global player Valentin Gnahoua, misplayed the ball and allowed Tyson Middlemost to scoop it up.

Lastly, as it looked like the Ticats were about to go on one of their signature seven-minute drives, Wes Hills was stripped of the ball by Jameer Thurman and it was recovered by Shawn Lemon. The Stamps would kick a field goal to take the lead.

None of these mistakes ultimately proved to be that costly but to have all this happen in one game and still emerge victorious is a minor miracle.

Money Small

The Tiger-Cats finally have their long-term kicker. If it wasn’t obvious before this game, it is obvious now: Seth Small is that dude.

It was another perfect night from the Texas A&M University alum, as he went four-for-four on field goals, including a massive 57-yard make just before halftime to give the Cats a 14-10 lead at the break.

Small has been money, converting on a league-leading 91.2 percent of his kicks and coming up in the clutch time and time again. While the Katy, Texas native might never have a professional kick that matches his game-winner against the Alabama Crimson Tide from last year, the 22-year-old is proving he has the icy veins needed to come up big in the most pressure-filled situations.

Dropping Lemons and plucking Roses

A hat tip needs to be given to Hamilton’s offensive line for another excellent performance against one of the league’s best front fours. The Ticats allowed just one sack on the night, and it came on the team’s second drive of the game.

Hamilton’s big men neutralized top defensive player candidate Shawn Lemon and physical interior disruptor Mike Rose, with the pair combining for just one tackle and one fumble recovery on the night, both courtesy of Lemon.

Hamilton’s offensive line has been maligned for much of the season but it sure seems like the acquisition of David Beard from the Edmonton Elks changed everything. The Ticats are also doing this well up front without the services of future Canadian Football Hall of Famer Chris Van Zeyl.

The M.A.S.H. unit

It would not be a Tiger-Cats game if the team didn’t leave with some injuries to report on. Defensive lineman Mohamed Diallo, who started in place of Micah Johnson, and defensive back Ciante Evans both left the game due to injury, with neither returning.

Diallo’s injury came in the first half and forced the Ticats to use offensive lineman Kay Okafor on the defensive line. Okafor, a 2017 third-round pick by the Ticats, played defensive line during his four years at St. Francis Xavier University but this was the first time he was on that side of the ball since leaving Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Evans’ injury adds to the list of ones he has suffered in what is becoming a season to forget for the 2017 CFL all-star. The former Alouette and Stampeder has played in just 11 games this year and returned to the lineup following a long absence last week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Love what you do, I guess

Did anyone else notice the refs were a little more enthusiastic than normal with their calls this week?

In both games played on Friday, the men in stripes seemed extra boisterous when announcing first downs or touchdowns. Perhaps this has been a directive from the league but it is something I will be paying attention to as the season winds down.

This is still tackle football, right?

There has been a lot of talk in the football world, both north and south of the border, about the dwindling physicality that is being allowed in football. The NFL saw a pair of questionable roughing-the-passer calls occur during last weekend’s action and that has now spilled to the CFL.

Ticats’ defensive back Cariel Brooks was flagged for unnecessary roughness early in the second quarter on Friday following an open-field tackle on Calgary’s Peyton Logan. Brooks threw Logan to the ground and the ref immediately threw his flag.

I am all for player safety but at some point, we have to remember that these men are playing tackle football. The game is violent and the game is dangerous, and that is the reason many of us choose to watch it.

The rules have been skewed so far in the offence’s favour that they are now penalizing defensive players for making what used to be routine tackles. This is not a head-shot situation or even a player going low, this was two men engaged in a battle for position and one threw the other to the ground. You have to let the defenders defend and plays like this should never be fouls.

Reving up to 100

Congratulations are in order for long-time Hamilton Tiger-Cat offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg, who played in the 100th game of his Tiger-Cats and CFL career on Friday night.

The Essex, Ontario native’s selection with the third overall pick in the 2016 CFL Draft was a controversial one at the time but has proven to be one of the best draft selections the franchise has ever made.

The Grand Valley State University product is a three-time league and divisional all-star, including being named a league all-star the last two seasons. He is likely on his way to his fourth divisional all-star selection and possibly even a fourth league all-star nod as well.

First half funk

Here are the Tiger-Cats’ totals from the first half of Friday’s game:

  • 14 plays
  • less than nine minutes of possession
  • 60 yards of offence
  • four-point lead

How this team went into the locker room up 14-10 and not down 34-10 is a testament to the true insanity that this great game provides.

By every statistical measure, Calgary should have been cruising to victory and yet they were not. Football is a cruel sport but there is also nothing like it.

Pac vs. Biggie

At the start of the season, a lot was made of how the West was once again superior to the East, how the league should scrap divisions… yadda, yadda, yadda.

At the time, it was accurate and fair. The West had won 16 of the 19 games played between the two divisions and they were the better division.

But since then, the tables have turned with the East winning eight of the last 12 games played. That does not make up for the early season discrepancy but it does show that the balance of power between the two sides has evened out as the season has gone on. Both of Winnipeg’s losses up to this point have come against East Division opponents and the Ticats have as many wins over West teams as they do over their East counterparts.

The West Division has been better for the most part over the last 20 or so years and that will likely not change any time soon. But remember next year when someone tells you the West is 10-1 versus the East that later in the season those numbers will be a lot closer than that.

Candy Wars of 2022

My colleague John Hodge recently put together his personal Halloween candy rankings and while I always say people should enjoy whatever they darn well please, as a chocolate bar connoisseur I took issue with my fellow scribe’s rankings.

I must once again stress that everyone is allowed to enjoy whichever chocolate bar they choose — there are even people out there who like Big Turks somehow — and I am not here to judge your individual tastes, but after over 30 years of research — ie. me having eaten a lot of Halloween candy — I present to you the definitive ranking of Halloween treats.

Hershey

1) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (the G.O.A.T.)
2) Reese’s Pieces
3) Hersey Cookie and Cream
4) Oh Henry! (Oh Henry! Peanut Butter, however, would move up to No. 2)

Nestlé (honestly, none of theirs would crack my top 20 overall and it is the worst chocolate company in terms of product)

1) Coffee Crisp
2) KitKat
3) Aero
4) Smarties

Cadbury

1) Wunderbar (the only legitimate contender to the peanut butter cup’s throne)
2) Mr. Big
3) Crispy Crunch
4) Caramilk

Maynards

1) Swedish Fish
2) Fuzzy Peaches
3) Swedish Berries
4) Sour Patch Kids

Mars

1) M&Ms
2) Twix
3) Snickers
4) Peanut M&Ms

I am certain that this will not drum up any sort of controversy and I will not have my Twitter mentions flooded with reasons why I have the worst taste in candy of any person on the planet.

Up next

What was thought to be nothing more than a pipe dream a month ago is now very real: the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are on the precipice of qualifying for the 2022 CFL playoffs.

Next week the Ticats can do two things when they host the Ottawa Redblacks for the second time this season: they can eliminate the Redblacks from playoff contention and clinch their playoff spot with a win and a Saskatchewan Roughriders loss to the Calgary Stampeders.

Despite everything that has gone against the Ticats this year, despite how poorly they have played for long stretches of the season, this team could push their way into a playoff spot with one week left to go in the season.

One thing we know for certain is that playoff football will not be played in Hamilton this year, after the Alouettes secured a home playoff game with their victory over Ottawa on Friday night. If the Tabbies are to make their third consecutive Grey Cup appearance, they will have to do so as the three-seed in the East Division.

For context, no East Division team has won or made the Grey Cup from that spot since the Montreal Alouettes did it in 1970, and only 11 three-seeds have even made the East Final during that span, with seven of those instances coming since 2008.

It is an uphill battle for the black and gold but this team has been facing uphill battles since the season began. If there is one team that can do the seemingly impossible, it is the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

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.