The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ season came to an end in Montreal for the second straight year as the club lost 27-12 in the East Semi-Final on Saturday afternoon. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Turnovers tell the tale
Football is a game that’s often won on a handful of plays and the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually ends up on the positive end of things. That’s exactly what occurred at Pervical Molson Stadium as the Ticats turned the ball over three times, gave up five sacks and had numerous passes batted down in the loss.
The Als led by 14-6 at halftime after scoring eight points off two Hamilton turnovers, both of which took points off the board. Kiondre Smith fumbled deep in Alouettes’ territory on Hamilton’s first drive, while a pass by Matthew Shiltz was intercepted following a deflection and Montreal converted it into a touchdown on the very next play from scrimmage.
The better team won on Saturday but the Ticats will go into the off-season wondering if things may have turned out differently if they hadn’t shot themselves in the foot after taking poor care of the football.
Cameo for Bo
Going into the game, the Tiger-Cats said they planned on using quarterbacks and they did, technically, but not as anyone thought they would.
Matthew Shiltz got the start and played most of the game despite the Ticats’ offence looking stagnant the entire time he was on the field. Hamilton never scored a touchdown and Shiltz played arguably his worst game as a member of the team, completing 13-of-23 pass attempts for 144 yards and one interception. He had four carries for 34 yards as well but he’s supposed to be the quarterback, not the running back, and when it came to throwing the ball he was simply nowhere near good enough to win a playoff game.
Shiltz’s poor play, however, wasn’t enough to get Bo Levi Mitchell into the game until there were only six minutes remaining and after the Als had scored their final touchdown to put the nail in the coffin. Mitchell threw an interception on a desperation throw but the game was already well in hand by then.
The Tiger-Cats now face some serious questions at the game’s most important position. Shiltz had a chance to solidify himself as the team’s No. 1 with his performance and instead may have played himself off the roster. Whether that means Mitchell returns or the team once again goes looking for help, we won’t know until the off-season is in full swing in a few weeks.
One thing is for certain: it won’t be a dull winter in Hamilton.
Of all the players I expected to be a non-factor on Saturday, Ticats’ receiver Tim White wasn’t one of them. After leading the league with over 1,200 receiving yards, White was held off the stat sheet against the Alouettes, being targeted just three times all game.
Whether this was a product of a game plan that went awry or the inability of Shiltz to get him the ball, Hamilton’s top playmaker finishing with goose eggs across the box score is inexcusable.
White signed a big-money contract in February to be the No. 1 receiver and lived up to that billing during an excellent regular season. But big-time players need to make big-time plays in big-time games to justify their big-time cheques and White was nowhere to be found when his team needed him most.
There aren’t a lot of positives to take from this game but one player that earned his keep was running back James Butler. Butler was unquestionably Hamilton’s top offensive weapon, rushing 13 times for 83 yards and keeping many drives going on sheer will alone.
I expected the Tiger-Cats to use a run-heavy attack, trying to shorten the game and keep the Alouettes’ offence off the field. Early on they did just that, starting the game with four rushes on their opening drive and running the ball six consecutive times when they were backed up deep in their own end following Richard Leonard’s interception.
However, ball control can only go so far when you’re down by more than one score late and it’s no surprise that the game got away from Hamilton as soon as they abandoned the run.
Fans have already started calling for wholesale change for the Ticats next season but one name that’s been absent from any scorn is Butler, and for good reason.
One of CFL fandom’s favourite talking points is no more as Ja’Gared Davis failed to make the Grey Cup game for the first time in his career.
Davis finished the regular season without noticing a sack and missed a number of games due to injury. Davis was even dealt midseason to the Calgary Stampeders but the trade was later nullified when the veteran failed his physical.
This was easily the most difficult season of Davis’ CFL career but he handled it like a professional and picked up the pace as the games grew more important. He played well down the stretch and made a couple of big plays in Saturday’s loss, including picking up his first sack of the season. He also had another athletic pass breakup, which was reminiscent of his play two years ago against the Toronto Argonauts in the East Final.
Davis looked down just before the Ticats attempted to trade him but he rose to the occasion when his team needed him most. It wasn’t enough for Hamilton’s season, and Davis’ streak, to continue but it might have been enough to salvage a career that looked over back in the summer.
Defence did enough
Before things got out of hand late in the game, I thought Hamilton’s defence played well enough for the Ticats to win the game.
They allowed two touchdowns. with the second one being the only sustained scoring drive the Alouettes had all game. The first major came on the play immediately following Schiltz’s second-quarter interception.
William Stanback was held in check for most of the game before busting off a 38-yard run with just over three minutes remaining. If you subtract that from his total, Stanback had just 57 yards on 17 carries, averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry.
Montreal’s passing offence was kept in line as well as only one receiver, Tyler Snead, hit the 50-yard mark and Cody Fajardo barely broke the 200-yard passing mark, throwing for 212 yards on 15-of-23 passing.
This was a defensive performance that was good enough to win a playoff game. Unfortunately for the Tiger-Cats, the offence simply failed to match it.
The CFL needs to answer for how Alouettes’ receiver Austin Mack was able to return to the field so quickly after TSN’s Duane Forde said the first-year pass catcher was “wobbly” after taking a vicious hit in the second quarter.
According to TSN’s Matthew Scianitti, Mack went to the locker room to be checked for a concussion only to emerge a minute later ready to go.
That’s an indefensibly short amount of time to check if a player has a head injury. Mack even went back into the locker room following his touchdown catch, which came after less than 30 seconds of game time had elapsed.
Player safety is always at the forefront, especially when head injuries are concerned, but time and time again the CFL fails the test when it matters most.
Things got ugly late as a fracas broke out on the field after known-numbskull Chris Edwards decided to take his aggression out on Jake Harty, violently throwing the receiver to the ground before taking a swing at him as he lay on his back.
This is just the latest example of Edwards being a complete buffoon when things don’t go his way. Earlier this year, he got himself in hot water when he cowardly sucker-punched another Alouettes player, Austin Mack, following a game. Edwards was fined for that and was mostly on his best behaviour ever since.
Edwards is no stranger to supplementary discipline dating back to his time with the Argos when he set off a melee at BMO Field. He entered the stands to fight Tiger-Cats fans following Toronto’s East Final loss to the Ticats in 2021 and was suspended for four games, though it was later reduced to three for reasons that remain unclear.
Edwards was one of four players ejected for the altercation on Saturday, with Montreal’s Jeshrun Antwi and Hamilton’s Omar Bayless and Mason Bennett following Edwards to the locker room. All four will most assuredly be fined and perhaps further discipline could be coming.
This should be the final straw for Edwards with the Tiger-Cats and perhaps the entire CFL, as his antics are no longer balanced out by all-star-level play. He’s simply no longer worth the headaches he brings.
An off-season of questions awaits as the Tiger-Cats once again as they’ve finished the season without a championship.
What does the team do at quarterback? Which veterans do they bring back? Have we seen the final games in the great careers of players like Chris Van Zeyl, Ted Laurent, and Simoni Lawrence?
What do the Tiger-Cats do now that the spectre of attempting to break their Grey Cup drought at home no longer hangs over their heads?
This team clearly had a three-year plan, loading up on veterans in an attempt to secure their first championship this millennium with two chances to hoist the Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field. Those hopes are now dashed and the team will need to make some difficult decisions as it attempts to get back into true championship contention.
We have some time before a full post-mortem on where everything went wrong needs to be written but it certainly feels like we’re entering a pivotal off-season for this franchise.