Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille suggested this week he wouldn't flinch if quarterback Quinton Porter struggled in his return to the starting role against the Calgary Stampeders.
And struggle he did early on.
Porter fumbled Hamilton's second snap from scrimmage. He threw a horrible interception late in the first quarter. And his ability to find open receivers was challenged at the best of time.
But Bellefeuille kept to his word - until playing a fourth-quarter hunch that paid off in spades.
Facing second-and-one from the Calgary 36-yard line midway through the fourth quarter tied 17-17, Bellefeuille sent in third-string quarterback Adam Tafralis to execute what the Stampeders surely expected to be a quarterback sneak.
Instead, the seldom-used Tafralis dropped back and fired a touchdown pass to Arland Bruce, his second of the game, that put Hamilton up 24-17 and gave the Tiger-Cats their first lead of the game.
"We almost called it earlier but we held off," said Bellefeuille. "(Offensive co-ordinator) Mike Gibson looks to me in those situations and I gave him the green light … Teams will have to play us a little different in those second-down sneak situations."
Bruce's second touchdown catch of the game - and second of the fourth quarter - gave him six receptions for 105 yards and was further proof of the impact he's had on this team since arriving in a July 29th trade from Toronto.
"See those signs over there that say East Division Champion and Grey Cup champion?" said Bruce, pointing to the wall in the Ticat locker room. "That's my motivation. I talk to the receivers every day and say `let's get to the playoffs.' I don't care about stats, let's get wins."
"It's a great atmosphere and environment when you're on a team that hasn't been winning and then that atmosphere starts to change."
Bruce's play was especially critical since Hamilton's other deep threat, Prechea Rodriguez was out of the lineup against Calgary.
"Look at the numbers he has," said Hamilton centre Marwan Hage. "He's a threat to everyone and a great teammate. I loved watching him play and to have him on my team, it's been a blessing."
After Bruce's second score, Hamilton stopped Calgary on its next possession, then managed to hold onto the ball long enough to put the Stamps deep in their own territory with only seconds remaining.
Hamilton's win was its fifth in a row at home and put the Cats back above .500 in the CFL's East Division at 6-5 after having dropped three of four games headed into Friday night.
Porter, whose knee injury forced him to give way to backup Kevin Glenn the past two weeks, bounced back from a shaky first half as the Cats avoiding turning the ball over the second half aside from a third-and-one gamble where Tafralis was stuffed near midfield early in the fourth quarter.
The Cats commitment to Porter has been a careful balance, as Bellefeuille has tried to give the second-year quarterback room to work through his struggles while not letting that sabotage the Cats overall improvement.
"I don't think we've won or lost a game this season based on who we've played at quarterback," said Bellefeuille. "We win or lose as a team and until someone emerges to be the next Anthony Calvillo, Henry Burris or Ricky Ray that's how it's going to be. I said to our coaches I don't think we've won or lost a game based on who we've played at quarterback."
Porter wound up last night 19 of 32 attempts for 246 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
"We're winning games when I'm in there and I don't see any reason to think things would be otherwise," said Porter. "But I appreciate the coaching staff sticking with me."
The Cats got another strong performance from running backed DeAndra' Cobb who consistently found room along the ground, rushing 17 times for 85 yards.
But the key for Hamilton was the play of its defence which held the league's highest scoring offence in check for most of the game, giving up only the odd burst to running back Joffrey Reynolds and only a handful of long passes.
Calgary quarterback Henry Burris, who'd been on a roll of late, finished good on 9 of 23 passes for just 120 as Calgary saw its record slip to 6-5 and had its three-game winning streak snapped.
The first half didn't glorify either side, at least on offence.
Porter's early fumble gave Calgary the ball at the Ticat nine yard line. After pass interference penalty, Burris kept the ball for a one-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
After the Cats made it 7-3, Calgary again capitalized on Hamilton mistake when Cobb fumbled and Stampeder safety Milton Collins picked ball up and scampered 39 yards for the score.
The Cats drove deep into Calgary territory on its next possession but that drive ended when Porter's pass was picked off in the endzone by Calary safety Wes Lysack for Hamilton's third turnover of the first quarter.
Porter spent much of the first half scrambling for his life, taking two sacks and taking off up field five times for 46 yards, amid occasional cries from the home crowd of 19,448 to see backup Kevin Glenn enter the game.
But what could have been a disastrous first quarter for Hamilton ended at just 14-7 as the Ticat defence kept the high-powered Stampeder offence in check.
Burris, who entered the game as the league's leading passer, was held to just two completions on 10 attempts for nine yards during the first half.
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