Quarterback Henry Burris is hoping to turn the Hamilton Tiger-Cats season around a game at a time.
Burris threw three touchdowns in Hamilton’s emphatic 51-8 win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday, ending the Tiger-Cats five-game losing streak and keeping them in the CFL’s playoff picture.
“I take it one step at a time,” he said. “It’s definitely the direction that we want to go.”
After an inconsistent first half, Hamilton overcame an early eight-point deficit to score 51 unanswered points, including 35 in the second half.
The Tiger-Cats improved to 4-7. Edmonton, which would currently bump Hamilton out of a playoff spot in a crossover, has lost three straight and falls to 5-6.
Hamilton now has two games coming up against division opponents in their fight to get back in the playoff hunt.
“We really needed this game and more importantly to get the season started right for ourselves at this point playing at home because if you’re going to make the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to win the games at home,” said Burris, who completed 23 of 33 pass attempts for 418 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Jerome Messam scored Edmonton’s lone touchdown while Bakari Grant, Dave Stala, Andy Fantuz, Chris Williams, Avon Cobourne and Dee Webb all scored for Hamilton.
Hamilton’s Luca Congi kicked all three field-goal attempts in the second quarter, from 10, 22 and 45 yards. Edmonton kicker Grant Shaw missed his lone attempt from 48 yards and back-up Brody McKnight, acquired this week, was blocked on his 48-yard attempt.
Edmonton quarterback Kerry Joseph, whom head coach Kavis Reed later said had been playing at just 80 per cent, was replaced by Steven Jyles with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Jyles, in turn, was replaced soon after by Matt Nichols.
But Joseph came back on the field when Nichols went down with an injury to end the third.
Jyles returned with four minutes left in the fourth and was intercepted by Webb with 1:42 left in the game on a pass intended for Fred Stamps. Webb returned it 98 yards for the touchdown and the final score.
Both Joseph and coach Reed called the result an embarrassment.
“We did not do our franchise any justice tonight,” Reed said. “The way we performed was not average. It was not mediocre, it was not very good.”
The Hamilton defence held Edmonton to 365 yards net offence — just 56 on the ground.
“Whenever something like this happens, whenever it goes bad it is absolutely my fault,” Reed said. “One hundred per cent me. I have to look at what I’m doing how I’m doing it and who I’m doing it with.
“It’s absolutely on me.”
Cobourne, who has been relegated to back-up running back this season, started the game in place of an injured Chevon Walker. Cobourne carried the ball 18 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Hamilton took a 16-8 lead into the half when Webb blocked McKnight’s field goal attempt and the ball was picked up by Grant and run back 58 yards with time expired in the first half.
“To score that touchdown, threw the momentum hugely in our favour right before the half,” said Ticats head coach George Cortez.
“It’s always positive to win,” he added. “It always gives you, I hate to say momentum because that’s a game-to-game thing, it gives you confidence that you can get the task accomplished.”
Burris was also talking about confidence. The Ticat offence, which has become renowned for poor third-quarter showings this season, made adjustments at the half and came out firing, scoring 21 points in the next 15 minutes of play.
“Those first two drives in the third quarter were pretty big for us,” Burris said. “We were able to go down the field and put points on the board. That’s the way we’ve got to play with all this talent that we have and now, hopefully, with this extra confidence we’re going to get from this game it will allow us to focus on the little things we didn’t do well, like the two interceptions.”
Burris needed just two plays on their first possession in the third to find Stala tangled up with Edmonton cornerback Rod Williams on the sidelines. Stala hung onto the ball, escaped Williams’ grasp, and ran 87 yards for the TD.
On their next possession, Burris was intercepted by Joe Burnett at the Edmonton 12-yard line. But the Hamilton defence held and when the Eskimos gambled on third-and-one, the Ticats pushed back Messam for a loss of one.
That allowed Hamilton to take over on the Edmonton 21. Burris hit Fantuz in the endzone on the next play and Hamilton was up 30-8.
“Anytime you stop them on third and short and they try to run the ball, that’s a big play for your defence,” said Ticats linebacker Rey Williams who felt his squad, which has struggled all season, played more aggressively than usual for an entire 60 minutes to make the difference.
“I give them credit for how they played,” said Reed about the Hamilton defence. “They were very well prepared. They defended very well. The things they tried to do, they got a lot of pressure on our quarterback. But we did not execute. We did not execute to give ourselves a chance to score.”
With 2:23 left in the third, Burris hit Williams for a 25-yard TD and the 37-8 lead.
In the fourth, Cobourne scored his first rushing TD of the season with a 12-yard run, capping off a 105-yard drive that took 5:41 off the clock.