That’s a wrap: 10 thoughts on Hamilton’s regular-season-finale loss to the Alouettes

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats fell 22-20 to the Montreal Alouettes on a crisp autumn afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium on Saturday. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Give it away now

Mistakes are amplified in a close loss and the Ticats certainly made enough critical ones against Montreal.

The Tabbies turned the ball over five times, including a fumble on the opening kickoff by Tyreik McAllister that set the Als up to score the opening touchdown of the game two plays later. It would be Montreal’s only offensive touchdown of the game, as the Tiger-Cats’ defence held the Als to just 195 yards of total offence and kept them out of the end zone for the remainder of the game.

Entering the playoffs against this same opponent next week, the Tiger-Cats needed to be at their crispest but instead showed why they finished under-.500 for the second straight year. This team has been capable of playing at a high level but cannot seem to get out of their own way on multiple occasions. The loss on Saturday is further proof of that.

Ain’t no click

It was not a banner night for either of Hamilton’s signal callers, as both Bo Levi Mitchell and Taylor Powell struggled against a stout Montreal defence.

Mitchell played the entirety of the first half and put up the most pedestrian numbers since he returned from injury, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 53 yards. He was also forced to flee the pocket on more than a couple of occasions but made some nice throws in those situations. Unfortunately, his receivers did him no help, with drops by Kiondre Smith and Omar Bayless standing out.

Powell came on to start the second half and looked more in rhythm early but threw for just 106 yards and two interceptions on 10-of-19 passing. There seemed to be more fluidity to Hamilton’s offence but that could have been a case of the Alouettes easing off a little as the game wound down.

With this game being meaningless in terms of the standings, it is hard to take too much from either player’s output. One thing is for certain, it will be Mitchell under centre next weekend and Matthew Shiltz will be back in his familiar No. 2 role against his old team.

Super Reik

In a game where he fumbled the opening kickoff, dropped a pass when he was wide open inside the 10-yard line, and bobbled another punt, somehow Tyreik McAllister was still the best player the Tiger-Cats had from an offensive perspective.

Hamilton’s nominee for top special teams player finally made his way to the end zone in the second quarter on a brilliant missed goal return that he took 122 yards to the house. The return team set him up beautifully, with Will Sunderland getting in the way just enough to spring McAllister and then it was off to the races.

McAllister also had another potentially key return late in the game that set the Ticats up near midfield after the Als had taken the lead with under a minute and a half to go.

A lot was made by people like me about McAllister winning the team’s special teams award over Carthell Flowers-Lloyd but against the Als, No. 35 showed why he was a worthy recipient.

Never too Erli

It was nice to see Sean Thomas Erlington have a vintage performance as he took over lead-back duties in the second half and piled up 80 yards on 12 carries as well as scoring Hamilton’s lone offensive touchdown of the day.

With James Butler being the bell-cow back, Erlington has seen his role diminish this season. He had just four carries and seven catches entering Saturday’s game and had the lowest rushing and receiving totals outside of his rookie season. Injuries have derailed him as well — he has played in just 11 games this year — but he is still a quality player and showed what he is still occasionally capable of against his hometown team.

Top of the charts

With the regular season now wrapped up, congratulations are in order for receiver Tim White and special teams ace Carthell Flowers-Lloyd as the pair ended up finishing as the league leaders in receiving and special teams tackles.

White won the receiving crown with 1,269 yards, 43 more than Keon Hatcher. Austin Mack was a threat to overtake White on Saturday but was held catchless. White is the first Tiger-Cats receiving to win the receiving titles since Brandon Banks did it in 2019.

Flowers-Lloyd, unsurprisingly, finished with the most special teams tackles, notching 31 in his rookie season, 10 more than Ottawa’s Darius Williams. Flowers-Lloyd is the first player with more than 30 since 2009.

Ain’t no fun

The play that has divided a nation was once again successfully pulled off after receiver Cole Spieker followed in Jeshrun Antwi’s footsteps and recovered his own quick-kick onside punt midway through the first quarter.

There was the same amount of bemoaning after this one, with calls that the league should change the rule or get rid of it altogether.

I said it then and I will say it here: stop trying to legislate fun out of the game. Is it a silly rule that probably shouldn’t be allowed? Of course. But it is and when it happens, it’s awesome. We have seen it work twice this year but many forget that Antwi tried and failed to do it even earlier in the season.

It’s a fun play, a quirk in the CFL rulebook and the league doesn’t look any worse for allowing it than the NFL does for letting the Brotherly Shove become a thing.

Sports should be fun. This rarely used play is fun. Stop being killjoys.

Eight is enough

With the loss, the Ticats will finish at 8-10 for the second straight year. This will be the third season in a row they’ve won eight games after finishing 8-6 in the Covid-shortened 2021 season and the fourth time in the last five seasons they’ve won eight games, after finishing 8-10 in 2018.

For almost the entirety of this run, which you can date back to 2009, the Ticats have been basically a .500 team. They have won between eight and 10 games 10 times in the last 14 seasons. They have won six games twice, seven games once and the big outlier was their 15-3 campaign in 2019.

They have a record of 121-127 over that time frame and are 10 games above .500 since Orlondo Steinauer took over in 2019.

Forever Young

Congratulations are in order for Hamilton Tiger-Cats caretaker Bob Young on his induction into the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame last Wednesday.

I don’t think it is going too far to say that without Bob Young purchasing the Ticats out of bankruptcy in 2003, the organization might not exist today. In the 20 years since he purchased the team, the Ticats have become one of the model franchises in the CFL. It was a rocky first few years, with just one playoff appearance and 24 total wins between 2004-2008 but things really began to turn around starting in 2009.

Since then, the Tiger-Cats have qualified for the post-season 12 times, second only to the Calgary Stampeders over that same time frame, have hosted nine playoff games, and played in seven East Finals and four Grey Cups.

The victories have also piled up off the field as well, with a new stadium opening in 2014, the team becoming profitable for the first time in over four decades, and Young bringing in Stelco as a part owner in 2022 to form the Hamilton Sports Group, which owns the Ticats and Canadian Premier League team Forge FC.

The organization is also set to host their second Grey Cup in three years, with the 2021 edition being the first to take place in the city in a quarter-century.

While championship glory has eluded the Tiger-Cats during Young’s tenure as caretaker, everything else has been about as good as he could have hoped when he signed on the dotted line to take over his hometown team over two decades ago.

”Four”ge FC

Speaking of Young’s impact on sports in Hamilton, the aforementioned Forge FC won their fourth Canadian Premier League title on Saturday night, lifting the North Star Cup after a thrilling 2-1 victory in extra time over Calgary’s Cavalry FC at Tim Hortons Field.

The game was knotted nil-nil after 90 minutes before the fireworks factory began in extra time. Cavalry got on the board first with a world-class strike by Ali Musse in the 101st minute.

Forge’s Béni Badibanga drew the match level just five minutes later with his own outstanding strike off a perfectly drawn up set piece set up by Forge’s day-one signing and team captain Kyle Bekker.

Then the winner, an otherworldly Olimpico off the left foot of Tristan Borges in the 111th minute that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

While Forge, who has made all five CPL Finals in league history, had won three previous titles, they had captured them all on the road, winning in Calgary in 2019, Charlottetown during the Island Games in 2020 and Ottawa last year.

Forge hosted the Final in 2021 but lost 1-0 to Pacific FC, the only blemish on an otherwise impeccable résumé that also includes a pair of long runs in the now-defunct CONCACAF League and being the first CPL side to play in the CONCACAF Champions League (now called the CONCACAF Champions Cup) and the Canadian Championship. Getting to hoist the North Star Cup in front of nearly 14,000 screaming Hamiltonians was the cherry on top of one of the most dynastic runs in Canadian professional sports and cemented Forge as the one true dynasty in Canadian soccer.

Up next

With the regular season now in the rearview mirror, the Ticats’ focus shifts to… well, it doesn’t really shift at all. Next Saturday, they will take on the same opponent they lost to this week.

The Tiger-Cats and Alouettes will meet in the East Semi-Final at Percival Molson Stadium, the third year in a row these two teams have met in the first round of the CFL playoffs, with each team winning once. The Ticats won in 2021, 27-12 at Tim Hortons Field while the Als exacted a measure of revenge last season, winning 28-17 in Montreal.

The Alouettes have had the Tiger-Cats’ number of late, winning six of the last seven games between the two teams. The Ticats have an uphill climb as the third-place team but it is one they will have to make if they hope their 2023 playoff run lasts longer than their 2022 one.

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.