The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ quarterback position has been mired in controversy for much of the 2022 season, but head coach Orlondo Steinauer is a believer in the playoff experience of Dane Evans heading into the East Semi-Final.
“He’s able to get the job done,” Steinauer told the media on Thursday. “Be it as a starter or as a backup, it’s that simple. I could get into fine fixtures and details but it’s really that he’s willing to do whatever role it takes.”
Despite being in his first season as the team’s number one quarterback, Evans has already helped lead the Ticats to two straight Grey Cup appearances, starting both games. In 2019, he replaced an injured Jeremiah Masoli for the entirety of the second half of the season, before the two flip-flopped back and forth in 2021.
The finest moment of Evans’ career came as a backup in those playoffs, when he came off the bench in the East Final and went a perfect 16-of-16 for 249 yards and a score to urge the team to victory.
“Obviously, the one that stands out the biggest is the East Final last year, when we had that two-quarterback thing going,” Steinauer recalled. “In big games, you’ve got to perform and that’s not just Dane, that’s everybody. Our coaches’ job is to prepare and the player’s job is to perform and Dane’s proven that he can perform on the biggest stage.”
The 2022 season has not been nearly as kind to Evans, as the 28-year-old has struggled with consistency and turnovers for long stretches. He finished the year 305-of-457 passing for 3,883 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, with backup Matthew Shiltz firmly establishing himself as a vital component of the offence and nearly unseating him as starter mid-way through the year.
Steinauer confirmed that both quarterbacks will again see action against the Alouettes on Sunday but Evans will be starting despite a thumb injury suffered two weeks ago
“He hasn’t missed any reps, to be honest with you. He’s been out there,” the coach insisted. “Yeah, you’re going to see tape on there, but he can make all the throws. If you’re out there, you still can hear the ball whistling through the air. Dane will be fine.”
For the underdog Ticats, the experience he brings will be far more valuable than the performance. Despite his inconsistent play, Evans has still proven himself able to rise to the moment on a number of occasions this year, pulling huge upsets or staging late comebacks to help power the team into the playoffs.
He’s done the same in the postseason before, a fact that isn’t lost on his coach or teammates.
“Anytime you have people that have been there before and they’re playing integral parts on your football team, I think it’s extremely important,” Steinauer said. “Because who else do you look to? It’s not just the lead-up to it, it’s the specific times; like you’re standing in a huddle and you need to go 90 yards to score. If you’ve been there before, if there are those presences in the huddle, and when you have that type of experience, I just always look at it as it doesn’t hurt. And in our case, I think it would help.”
“We’re a pretty young football team in a lot of areas with people that haven’t been there, although we’ve gotten a little bit healthier down the stretch. I think experience, at times, plays a big factor.”