The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Calgary Stampeders 22-15 on Saturday night at Tim Hortons Field. Here are my thoughts on the game.
Bowling shoe ugly
The CFL has had a lot of really fun, entertaining games this season but Saturday’s contest was not one of them.
It felt like both of these teams were attempting to set offensive football back 40 years with how ungodly awful they were. Hamilton’s offence has been hit-or-miss since Scott Milanovich took over and it was a lot of miss, especially early on. The Ticats had one of the most anemic first quarters we have seen all year. They ran 11 plays for 57 total yards and gained two first downs in the entire quarter.
The good thing for the Tiger-Cats was that Calgary’s offence was nearly as horrendous. They ran more plays for more yards and scored six points in the first 15 minutes but it was not pretty. Watching their offence operate in person is even more painful than doing so on television because at least you can change the channel when watching from the couch.
Had it not been for some big plays later in the game from Hamilton, this game could have gone down as one of the worst of the year. I know winning ugly counts just as much as winning pretty but that doesn’t make the ugly ones any more appealing to the eye.
I don’t think the Tiger-Cats win this game if Orlondo Steinauer doesn’t make the decision to pull Taylor Powell in favour of Matthew Shiltz.
Powell simply did not have it on Saturday and with the team needing a win after last week’s bludgeoning at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts, Steinauer made the decision to go to his veteran backup early and it paid off.
Shiltz finished the game 11-of-19 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran three times for 30 yards. I thought there was a possibility of seeing Shiltz in the game in certain situations after he got more reps with the first-team offence during practice last week but when it became clear that Powell was having an off night, Hamilton’s bench boss made the switch he needed to make.
Steinauer has shown adeptness in making these moves, most famously pulling the trigger on swapping Dane Evans in for Jeremiah Masoli in the 2021 East Final. Evans went on to guide the Ticats over the Argos despite being down at halftime. While this game did not have those stakes, it was an important win nonetheless. The Ticats secured a postseason berth and kept themselves within striking distance of the Montreal Alouettes for second in the East and the coveted home playoff game that accompanies such a finish in the standings.
Walls of Hamilton
While Calgary’s offence was some combination of horrible and putrid — horrtrid? putible? — Hamilton’s defence does deserve some credit for shutting the Stamps down.
The Tabbies were once again fairly stout against the run, allowing 92 yards on the ground, and held Jake Maier to just 239 yards through the air. The Ticats also did a good job of keeping Reggie Begelton from being a factor, as the league’s leader in catches snagged just four balls for 25 yards. This was doubly impressive given that the Tiger-Cats were starting three rookies in the secondary.
This wasn’t a defensive performance that will bring up memories of the great Tiger-Cats’ defences of the past, and they did it against perhaps the league’s most predictable offence, but it was still one of their best outings of the season. Whenever you can hold the opposition to just five field goals, you give your team a chance to win. The Ticats did just that on Saturday.
Saturday’s victory coupled with Montreal’s win over the Ottawa Redblacks earlier in the day has the Tiger-Cats playoff-bound for the fifth straight season and fourth straight under head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
The Ticats have not played playoff football in five consecutive seasons since they ran off 12 straight from 1978-1989. Hamilton has also now made the playoffs 12 times in the last 14 seasons. Only the team they beat on Saturday has had more playoff appearances over the last decade and a half.
The Tiger-Cats have a large uphill battle if they hope to end their Grey Cup drought but it was not all that long ago that annual playoff trips felt like a pipe dream for this franchise. Now that almost feels like a rite of passage, regardless of how poorly the regular season can go sometimes.
Dirtiest player in the game
Football is a violent sport played at a high speed, so you come to accept some level of ugliness when it comes to hits. What you don’t have to accept is what Cameron Judge did to Gordon Whyte.
Following Marc Liegghio’s missed convert after Hamilton’s first touchdown, Whyte was running downfield as he always does on special teams and just as he was about to reach the goal line, he was hit from behind by Judge. The hit sent Whyte barrelling into the goal post, which he narrowly avoided. It was an unnecessary cheap shot that could have caused serious injury. This game got a little chippy at times but this took things too far.
With Micah Awe getting fined a fourth time this year for an unnecessary hit, the Stampeders are beginning to gain a reputation as a dirty team. While I won’t label Judge a dirty player, I have no problem saying his hit on Whyte was dirty.
Players getting hit during the flow of the game is one thing and while there have definitely been head hunters in the game — *cough* Kyries Hebert *cough*– this was not that. This was a player taking a cheap shot at another for no discernible reason. These types of hits are simply not acceptable and the officials would have been well within their right to toss Judge from the game.
That did not happen, much to the dismay of the partisan Tiger-Cats crowd, but I would be shocked if Judge isn’t half a game cheque lighter in the wallet by Wednesday.
It may have taken until Week 17, but welcome to the 2023 season Ja’Gared Davis. I have made no bones about being less than impressed with Davis dating back to training camp but it is usually around this time of year when he starts to put things together and he had easily his best game of the year on Saturday night.
Davis lived in Calgary’s backfield, harassing Maier on numerous occasions, stuffing the run expertly and seemingly being around the ball on every play.
You know Davis is having a good game when he gets hit with a bogus roughing-the-passer call, such as he did against Calgary. I am not sure what the replay official saw but Davis’ hit wasn’t late and it wasn’t a direct blow to the head — it looked more like Maier’s facemask hit Davis’ shoulder due to the ferocity of the hit.
If Davis is going to play like this from here on out, all the drama over his rescinded trade will be long forgotten when the Tiger-Cats are on their way to winning another East Final at BMO Field.
Welcome to the territory, kid
Saturday saw former Montreal Alouette Jamal Davis make his Tiger-Cats debut and it could not have gone any better.
Davis played sparingly, mostly on special teams and in pass-rush situations on defence, but he came away with his first sack in Black and Gold, hitting the Carleton dance after bringing down Jake Maier.
Davis was a monster for the Alouettes over the last three years and if he can bring that type of intensity with him to his new home, coupled with Ja’Gared Davis looking to morph into Ja’Gared Davis!!, the defensive line that has been a liability all year might finally be an asset.
It’s a Green Day, yes it is
The Grey Cup halftime act is almost always divisive. Last year’s announcement of that one dude from Florida-Georgia Line and two other dudes I don’t remember was met with a collective “meh” from fans.
That certainly was not the case on Saturday, when the league announced that punk-rock icons Green Day would be providing the halftime entertainment this year.
Just like the Super Bowl halftime show from 2022 that featured Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Mary J. Blige, this year’s Grey Cup halftime show is geared directly towards people in my age range, 35-45-year-olds who listened to Green Day during their formative years.
So while this might not hit the more coveted 18-35 demo, reaching the one just above that is a big win for the CFL. The league has a reputation as being behind the times, far too reliant on country music acts, and a little stale when it comes to its music selections. Snagging Green Day to play the biggest game of the year erases a lot of that.
While I was not the biggest Green Day fan growing up, I am certainly more than aware of their biggest hits and I know the show will be fast-paced, high-energy and entertaining. It is about as perfect a halftime act as the league could have hoped for. This gets top marks all around.
Don’tcha dare miss it
With the playoffs now secure, the Tiger-Cats can turn their focus to claiming second in the East Division. Unfortunately for the team, they will need a little help in doing so.
Thanks to their two losses earlier this year to the Als, the Ticats do not control their own path to hosting a playoff game in 2023. With the Als a game up, Montreal will need to slip twice in the final month while Hamilton will have to win all three of their remaining games to catch them.
While that isn’t the tallest of tasks, it also isn’t the easiest as the Als have a much more favourable final four games. Montreal, who are 8-0 against teams under .500 this season, plays only teams with losing records the rest of the way, hosting Ottawa and travelling to Edmonton before closing the season against the Ticats in the final week of the season in Montreal. Hamilton will need to win that game and their other two, against Saskatchewan and B.C., if they are to leapfrog the Als.
One more Tiger-Cats’ loss coupled with another Alouettes’ win would lock in the East Division seeding. So if the Ticats want to stay in the hunt for second place, they will need to beat the Riders in Regina for the first time since 2015.