The Hamilton Tiger-Cats had an opportunity for a late-game comeback in their final tuneup ahead of the regular season but ultimately fell 25-22 to the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.
With many of Hamilton’s projected Week 1 starters watching the game from the comfort of their couches, the Ticats had a chance to gauge where some of their backups were at. One such player who solidified their spot in the pecking order was quarterback Matthew Shiltz.
Schiltz began the game slowly with three incompletions in his first four pass attempts but threw just one incompletion the rest of the night to finish the game 12-of-16 for 162 yards and two touchdown throws. He also had the game’s biggest play, a 51-yard scamper that set up the Tabbies inside Montreal’s 15-yard line.
The 30-year-old played a lot more last year than the team anticipated but performed well when thrust into that larger role. The team hopes he sees the field a lot less in 2023 now that Bo Levi Mitchell is in the fold, but Shiltz showed again on Friday that if forced into action he can more than keep the team afloat.
Powell plays foul
The flip side of Shiltz’s performance was that of rookie QB Taylor Powell. Powell was coming off a solid performance against the Argos but mostly struggled against the Alouettes.
The 24-year-old completed nine of his 15 pass attempts for 122 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The pick marked his fourth turnover in two games, which is too many even for a young quarterback learning the game.
It was not all bad for the former Eastern Michigan Eagle. He had a particularly nice back-shoulder completion to fellow rookie Jon’Vea Johnson late in the game and had the ball in his hands with under two minutes left with a chance to mount a game-winning drive before it was eradicated by a miscommunication with centre Ben Koczwara.
Powell’s performance last night was on the low end of the spectrum but with Jamie Newman’s continued absence and his play against the Argos, the Fayetteville, Ark. native has certainly shown enough to warrant being kept around to continue his development.
Scary Terry makes receiver decision hairy
With Justin McGriff’s suffering a long-term injury this past week, the Ticats are once again looking for a young American receiver to step up and claim a starting role.
Second-year pass catcher Terry Godwin II made the case on Friday night that he should be that guy.
While Godwin is not a one-for-one replacement for McGriff, the 26-year-old former Georgia Bulldog continued to show he belonged. The five-foot-11, 185-pounder finished as the game’s leading receiver with 77 yards and one of his three catches was a spectacular one-handed grab while another went for a score.
Godwin made two appearances for the Tiger-Cats a season ago, catching six passes for 107 yards, but after a solid training camp and now a solid preseason outing, he could — and maybe should — be in line for a larger role with the team in 2023.
Another receiver that had a good preseason was Canadian Richie Sindani. Sindani signed with the Ticats in April after four underwhelming years with the Calgary Stampeders and a brief stint with the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers.
The 27-year-old Regina native has caught touchdowns in both of Hamilton’s exhibition games and was a reliable outlet for all three quarterbacks.
Sindani will miss the first two games of the season due to a suspension handed down in January after he tested positive for a banned substance but could be in line for a bigger role with the Tiger-Cats when he returns in Week 3.
The six-foot-two, 220-pound pass catcher set career highs with 32 catches and 362 yards with the Stamps in 2019 and eclipsing both those marks could be on the board for Sindani as he looks to be more of a featured player in Hamilton’s passing attack.
Gallimore sprints onto the roster
Last week’s standout Lio’Undre Gallimore may not have broken another big play in the return game — he had a good return called back due to a holding penalty — but he helped his case to earn a roster spot by showcasing himself more on the offensive side of the ball against the Alouettes.
The diminutive speedster caught three passes for 57 yards, finishing as the game’s second-leading receiver and provided Taylor Powell with a reliable outlet late in the game as the Ticats attempted to mount a comeback. The Miami Gardens, Fla. native finished the preseason with six catches for 79 yards.
The Tabbies have some interesting decisions to make at receiver ahead of their mandatory cutdowns this weekend and Gallimore’s play over the two preseason contests has made those choices much more difficult.
By George, I think he’s got it
While the defence as a whole was underwhelming against the Als, the tightly contested battle for the boundary cornerback position between Kenneth George Jr. and Will Sunderland was still worth watching.
Though George Jr. did not wow against the Als, the former Tennessee Volunteer put in another solid outing with a pair of tackles and a pass breakup. He was victimized on a long pass play by Caleb Evans to Quartney Davis in the second quarter but that was simply a case of the quarterback and receiver making an excellent play.
Sunderland is still likely to make the team to be the next man up should George falter but it would be a small surprise if the latter is not the one lining up with the starting defence when the Ticats play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Week 1.
After being a non-participant for much of camp, Hamilton’s first-round pick, offensive lineman Dayton Black, saw his first professional action on Friday night. Black was listed as the backup left guard and played most of the game’s second half in that spot.
With Alex Fontana going down with an injury and Chris Van Zeyl seemingly not quite ready to return to action, Black could see himself on the field a lot sooner than the team might have anticipated when they made him the sixth-overall pick in May’s draft.
Can they kick it? I guess they can
If both kicking competitions came down to Friday’s game, who will emerge is about as clear as mud.
Neither placekicker was all that effective, with Ethan Ratke looking slightly better than Jonathan Garibay on Friday. However, it had been Garibay who looked better than Ratke during camp.
With the organization still publicly saying that 2022 East Division all-star Seth Small will return to the team in the near future, what the Tiger-Cats eventually do at kicker as roster cuts loom will be noteworthy.
The punting battle that seemed like Bailey Flint’s to lose is just as murky as the team’s placekicking competition. With swirling winds last night, it was hard to judge either player by their numbers. Flint had the far superior average but how much of that was wind-aided for him and wind-hampered for Blake Hayes is unknown.
Flint has been the superior punter throughout camp, which likely gives him a leg up — no pun intended — but the team could go either way here.
CFL Preseason Live fail
While the league got its deserved kudos for the launching of CFL+ and CFL Preseason Live back in May, the lack of an English-language option for Friday’s Ticats game was a substantial miss.
Many English-language fans were shut out of watching the game due to the game being broadcast on RDS in Quebec. Maybe contracts would not allow for it, but throwing the feed up on TSN’s website or TSN+ should have been an option.
Yes, fans could have ordered RDS — on my Bell cable package, it comes in a bundle with other French-language sports stations for $10 per month — or used a VPN to watch on the CFL’s website. But the fact that fans who wanted to watch the game in Canada had more encumbrances than those watching anywhere else around the world is perplexing.
Canadian football fans living in Canada should not require a VPN or any other such device to watch the Canadian Football League. Period.
It will be interesting to see if any changes are made to allow fans of the Ontario team that will play in Montreal next preseason to watch that game.
Hamilton’s focus now turns to the regular season and their opening matchup with the three-time West Division champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Ticats split the season series with the Bombers a year ago and will be looking to start the season with a win for just the fourth time since 2004.
The Tiger-Cats have a revamped roster while the Bombers return much the same as they were constructed a year ago. Many have pegged these two teams as the ones who will meet in the final game of the season and this will be a good measuring stick for the Ticats.
If Hamilton is to win 11 games in 2023, a victory over the Bombers next Friday would be a good way to turbocharge that possibility. Click here to see if I think the Tiger-Cats can achieve that feat this season.