The Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the B.C. Lions 30-13 on Saturday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Lions sleep tonight
On the list of all-time shocking upsets, Saturday night’s three-phase beatdown won’t go down in the history books. It was a surprising outcome nonetheless.
Maybe more so than the Ticats emerging victorious was how they did it, thoroughly dominating a team many believe has a legitimate chance to hoist the Grey Cup at season’s end.
Hamilton was more physical and more efficient on offence, piling up 132 yards on the ground and converting two-thirds of their second-down attempts. That physicality extended to the defensive side as well, as the Tabbies held a prolific B.C. offence that averages nearly 27 points per game to just 13 points on Saturday night.
Lions’ quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. put up more big numbers, passing for over 300 yards for the sixth time this season, but they went for very little on the scoreboard as the Lions could muster just a single major that came late enough in the game where it mattered very little.
Understandably so, the Ticats had been left for dead heading into this game following last week’s embarrassing home loss to the Edmonton Elks. On Saturday night, they awoke from their season-long slumber to play their most complete game of the season.
One win does not a season make but last year the Tabbies’ shocking blowout win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was the catalyst for a late-season surge that saw them make the playoffs despite winning just three of their first 12 games.
Perhaps this win can do the same.
Place with a Butler
While it was downplayed throughout the week, Ticats’ running back James Butler certainly played as if he had a chip on his shoulder against his former club.
Butler was Hamilton’s battering ram, especially in the first half, and finished the game with 154 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns.
A lot has been made of the running back position in football, the ease with which you can find adequate replacements and why paying sizeable money for one is foolish. The Tiger-Cats’ decision to lure Butler over in free agency to be their bell-cow certainly looked smart on Saturday night.
The ball carrier did not do it alone though. Hamilton’s offensive line, much maligned in this space over the last few weeks, was tremendous in opening up holes for Butler. They were less effective in pass protection but by being more physical in the run game, the four sacks surrendered were of little consequence.
We knew Butler would see an increased role with Scott Milanovich now calling plays but a heavy workload for Hamilton’s tailback did not lead to a victory in the former head coach’s with the Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton played a much better game all around against the Lions, which allowed Butler to be the focal point in the team’s most impressive victory so far this season.
While Milanovich’s impact has come more in his play calling than his play design, the former Argos bench boss did trot out an interesting new wrinkle against the Lions.
They had the quarterback line up directly under centre, not in shotgun. It has been some time since we have seen a team do that with any regularity, as a shotgun-heavy, spread-them-out offence has become the standard across the league over the last decade.
Milanovich also deserves credit for improving on the offence’s biggest flaw: lack of halftime adjustments.
The Lions seemed to pick up on the Ticats’ game plan late in the second quarter and Hamilton came out with a more modern offensive approach in the second half. It was equally as effective, as the Tabbies’ offence scored 13 in the second half after scoring 10 in the first half (the final seven points came via a kickoff return).
One of the biggest criticisms of Tommy Condell was his seemingly stubborn refusal to switch things up when teams caught on to what the Ticats were doing. With Milanovich in charge, that does not seem to be the case.
Best-laid plans don’t always go astray
Credit where credit is due, as maligned defensive coordinator Mark Washington came out with an excellent game plan on Saturday.
Given what we had seen out of both teams this year, it was foolish to think the Ticats would be able to thwart B.C.’s high-scoring offence but thwart it they did.
Adams put up his typical 300-yard performance and Keon Hatcher was once again brilliant, catching a game-high seven passes and 107 yards while also scoring the Lions’ lone touchdown on the night. Other than that, Hamilton’s league-worst scoring defence held the Lions in check. B.C. didn’t do anything all that differently than they have most of the season, they just weren’t as successful doing it.
Hamilton’s defence put out its best performance when it desperately needed it and will now need a repeat against an even more prolific attack on Labour Day.
There’s a Taylor in my Powell
The numbers don’t wow you but Taylor Powell had his most effective game since taking over as the starting quarterback a few weeks ago. The rookie completed an impressive 78 percent of his passes for 222 yards and threw his first touchdown pass since his relief-effort debut against the Elks back in Week 6.
Powell continues to show improvement as he gets more reps. That was evident against B.C. as he avoided making any major mistakes, used his athleticism to extend plays and worked his way through his progressions to make solid throws despite a fair amount of pressure from a stout Lions’ front.
Former Tiger-Cats’ head coach Kent Austin used to say that progression isn’t linear; there will always be peaks and valleys. Taylor Powell’s development is a perfect example of that mantra. We know he will cede the starting job back to Bo Levi Mitchell when the veteran returns from injury but Powell has shown more than enough to be factored into the team’s quarterbacking plans going forward.
Hamilton defensive lineman Casey Sayles has had a quietly great season for the Black and Gold. He doesn’t typically stuff the stat sheet but he had his second sack in as many games on Saturday, had a key pass knockdown and recorded five defensive tackles.
The Ticats d-line was nothing special against the Lions, and B.C. actually did a fairly good job of keeping the Ticats at bay but Sayles was able to make an impact regardless.
He wasn’t alone either, as Ted Laurent and Kyle Wilson teamed up to stuff a third-down try early in the game and Jameer Thurman’s fourth-quarter interception all but sealed the game for Hamilton.
Everyone played their part but it all began with Sayles.
Saturday night special
Big special teams plays are not abnormal in the CFL but rarely do you see an onside kick get returned for a touchdown.
After it was deftly avoided by Anthony Federico, Ticats’ receiver Tim White scooped up the bouncing ball, watched as two Lions’ defenders flew right past him, and sprinted to the end zone to put the final nail in the Lions’ coffin.
It was the exclamation point on another excellent night for Hamilton’s special teams unit.
Carthell Flowers-Lloyd added another tackle to his league-leading total and was part of a group that held speedy Lions’ returner Terry Williams in check.
As the offence and defence have struggled, the special teams have been a bright spot since the first week of the season and that continued on Saturday night.
He’s got Lieg
After missing three field goals and an extra point against the Elks a week ago, it was nice to see kicker Marc Liegghio have a bounce-back performance against the Lions, converting both his PATs and connecting on all three field goal attempts.
Given what we saw with Liegghio during his tenure in Winnipeg, it was safe to wonder if his Week 11 struggles would carry over to this game. They did not.
There is still a wee bit of concern, however, as almost all of Liegghio’s kicks seemed to drift left despite the perfect conditions inside the domed BC Place. Hopefully, that was just an aberration as Liegghio’s redemption season has been one of the better stories in the CFL.
Knees up, Terry Williams
Harping on CFL officials for missing something is beating a dead horse but sometimes a call is so wrong that you simply have to do it.
Such a play occurred on Saturday when the officials ruled Terry Williams down by contact when replay showed the Lions’ returner was still standing upright when he fumbled the ball on a first-quarter punt return.
The play was ruled unchallengeable and even had that not been the case, the evidence was not clear enough to show which team recovered the ball.
Had the play been ruled correctly, the command centre would have looked at it as they do all turnovers. One side would have felt aggrieved when the call did not go their way but at least it would have been a more satisfying conclusion than the one we got.
Despite a less-than-stellar 4-6 record, the next time the Tiger-Cats take the field will be on Labour Day against their bitter rivals from up the QEW.
The Toronto Argonauts are rolling right now at 8-1 but records rarely matter when it comes to the Labour Day Classic.
The 1991 and 2017 games come to mind when considering bad Ticats teams beating good-to-great Argos teams. In both those seasons, the Double Blue would go on to win the Grey Cup and in both those years they would lose on the first Monday in September.
The Ticats won the Labour Day Classic, with a 36-14-1 all-time record. They have also won nine of the last 11 and have not lost back-to-back games on Labour Day since the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
If this team can muster up another classic performance in the Classic, perhaps a season that felt like it was lost will be found.