Even George Cortez was impressed by his quarterback’s numbers.
“I expected us to play well,” the Hamilton head coach said of the Tiger-Cats’ 41-28 win over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday, a game that saw Henry Burris complete 28-of-32 passes for 326 yards and five touchdowns.
“Did I expect us to be 28 and 32? Well, obviously, nobody expects that,” Cortez added. “That’s pretty tough (to accomplish) in the backyard against air.”
Friday marked the fifth time in Burris’ 13-year career that he has thrown five touchdowns in a game as the Ticats improved to 5-8.
East Division-leading Alouettes dropped to 8-5.
Andy Fantuz and Dave Stala each had two TD catches for the Tiger-Cats, while Chris Williams had the other.
Burris’ first touchdown pass of the game, a five-yarder to Fantuz that capped a 74-yard drive on Hamilton’s first possession, gave him 285 career TD passes and moved him past Tracy Ham for fifth all-time in the CFL.
“Things were flowing for us tonight,” said a smiling Burris, who stopped his dancing to answer media questions. “Our offensive line did a great job of blocking ... our receivers made plays.”
Despite the huge win over the East Division leaders, Burris knows the Ticats are running out of time to climb out of the hole they have dug themselves. Hamilton slogged through a five-game losing streak, won big at home against Edmonton and got beat by league-worst Winnipeg last week.
“Right now, our status is ‘To be continued,“’ Burris said. “Until we can come out and do this on back-to-back occasions, right now we’re not settling for this. We’re going to enjoy this one because it sets the direction we want to go.
“But we’ve got to be consistent at doing this. If we want to make the playoffs we need to win out right now.”
Adrian McPherson, Jamel Richardson, Chris Jennings and S. J. Green each scored for Montreal.
Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo was 12-of-23 passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
Hamilton kicker Luca Congi hit both of his field-goal attempts, from 24 and 14 yards, while Avon Cobourne ran the ball 19 times for 111 yards.
“For us offensively, when you’re on the road and going two and out early it’s not going to help the cause,” said Calvillo. “We have to look ourselves in the face and say, ‘We didn’t do enough,’ especially on our side of the ball.
“It’s always disappointing when you’re going two-and-out, two-and-out and they’re scoring. It just puts more pressure on the offence. We were able to scratch back a bit but it just wasn’t enough today.”
Burris threw four touchdown passes in the first half alone. The Ticats never punted the ball away as Hamilton took a 31-14 lead into the locker-room after recording 20 first downs and 301 yards of offence while controlling the ball for more than 20 minutes.
“(Burris) had an opportunity to scramble a few times and beat us with his legs, which he did early right down the middle of the pocket,” said Montreal head coach Marc Trestman. “He got outside and made some plays with his feet and made some completions. If you can’t make him uncomfortable in there he’s a tough guy to stop.
“He’s a premiere quarterback in our league and what he did tonight is what they brought him here (in a trade with Calgary) to do. They had to win this game and they brought their ‘A’ game and we didn’t have enough in all three phases to stop them.”
Hamilton has been at best inconsistent this season. The Ticats are fighting for a playoff berth but are also in danger of losing that spot to a West Division team in a crossover despite being the highest-scoring offence in the league.
“I think what we showed today was that (the Hamilton players) have a lot of pride in themselves,” said Cortez. “And they wanted to show that what happened last Friday night (a 34-12 loss in Winnipeg) wasn’t a true indication (of their ability) and now we need to carry that over to the next Friday night.”
After the scoring cooled off in the third quarter, Hamilton penalties on a punt return put them back on their own 12. On the first play from scrimmage, Burris forced a pass down the middle and it was intercepted by Chip Cox at the Hamilton 24. The momentum could have changed, but the Ticats defence shut down the Als at third-and-three on the 14.
Montreal got another chance on its next possession. A 41-yard punt return to the Hamilton 19 by Trent Guy set up a five-yard TD run by Jennings as Montreal pulled to within 10 points at 31-21.
But Hamilton opened the fourth quarter by finishing a 75-yard drive with Burris’ 17-yard TD strike to Stala and a 38-21 lead.
A Hamilton field goal and Calvillo’s second touchdown pass of the game, to Green with 2:16 left, made it 41-28. Montreal tried an onside kick but failed to gain control and Hamilton ran out the clock with a little more than two minutes left.
After scoring on their opening possession of the game, the Ticats followed with a 62-yard scoring drive that ended with a three-yard TD pass to Williams.
It looked like Hamilton had everything under control when the defence stalled a Montreal drive to end the first quarter, sacking Calvillo to put the Als out of field-goal range. But Sean Whyte punted the ball 45 yards to the Ticat three-yard line to open the second and on the first play from scrimmage, Hamilton running back Chevon Walker fumbled.
Montreal’s Rod Davis recovered at the Hamilton eight-yard line and two plays later, McPherson ran it in for a one-yard score.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff proved costly as Hamilton’s Onrea Jones ran back the rekick 57 yards to the Montreal 30-yard line. Two plays later, Burris hit Fantuz from eight-yards out for the receiver’s second score of the game.
Montreal responded with a 53-yard drive on three plays, culminating with Calvillo’s 21-yard TD strike to Richardson. Hamilton marched right back with a 77-yard scoring drive that ate up five minutes and ended when Burris hit Stala from four-yards out.
Congi’s 24-yard field goal with time expired made it 31-14.
Notes: Montreal and Hamilton split the first two games between the clubs this season. ... The Alouettes haven’t won at Ivor Wynne in five trips, including a 39-24 loss on July 21.