Dan LeFevour stole the spotlight from Henry Burris on Saturday night.
LeFevour threw for 361 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a game-high 109 yards and a TD in his first CFL start, leading the Hamilton Tiger-Cats past the Ottawa Redblacks 33-23.
Burris was making his first appearance in Hamilton since being released by the club in January after it signed Zach Collaros as a free agent. Burris served as the Ticats starter for two seasons and led the squad to a Grey Cup appearance last year while also tutoring LeFevour.
Although LeFevour spoiled Burris’s return, LeFevour downplayed any suggestion the game was about the quarterbacks.
“It had nothing to do with him,” LeFevour said. “It was just good to see him.
“I talked to him during the week and after the game . . . he was encouraging me. He’s a great guy, he really is.”
LeFevour, 27, was an impressive dual threat for Hamilton (1-3). He completed 21-of-30 passes while also running 13 times, his one-yard TD at 9:44 of the fourth snapping a 23-23 tie. The big play was LeFevour hitting C.J. Gable on an 83-yard screen pass that, with a horse-tackle penalty, put the Ticats at the Ottawa one-yard line to the delight of the Ron Joyce Stadium sellout of 6,500.
“You saw what a competitor he is,” Hamilton coach/GM Kent Austin said. “Real strong will to win, threw the ball well.
“Early on he pulled the ball down a little too soon but finally settled in and let the game come to him some more. He just really had a command of the offence.”
For the first time this season, Gable was a key figure in Hamilton’s offence. The speedy running back ran six times for 62 yards and a TD while adding three catches for a team-high 105 yards as the Ticats rolled up 558 total offensive yards.
Burris, 39, finished 27-of-44 passing for 290 yards and two TDs and an interception while throwing his first interception of the season. Ottawa (1-3) pulled into a 23-23 tie on Brett Maher’s 23-yard field goal at 4:41 of the fourth.
“He did a good job,” Burris said of LeFevour. “He ran the offence, got the ball to his playmakers and made some plays.
“I’m proud of him. I just wish he would’ve saved that for another night but kudos to him.”
Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said LeFevour’s legs were key to Hamilton’s victory.
“He’s a runner, if you give him escape lanes he makes you pay,” Campbell said. “We were trying to get him to hold the ball, which he did a couple of times, but he made some plays with his feet . . . then we gave up some huge plays.
“Him and Gable, they’re good athletes and you’ve got to be right on those guys because they make big plays.”
The Redblacks were coming off their first-ever win, an 18-17 home decision against Toronto last week, and Marcus Henry certainly did his part with 10 catches for 138 yards and a TD. But Burris said his club hurt itself against the Ticats.
“We found ways to hurt ourselves,” he said. “We had more opportunities to put more points on the board.
“This was one of those matches where the last offence that had the ball was going to win the game. Hamilton did a good job of making big plays, we didn’t make enough big plays. We can’t be shooting ourselves in the foot in those key situations.”
The game was the Ticats’ home opener and their first in Hamilton in 21 months as last year’s home contests were played at the University of Guelph while Tim Hortons Field was being built. Saturday’s contest was supposed to open Tim Hortons Field but construction delays will force the team to play at least its first two home games at McMaster.
Hamilton hosts the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night.
Brandon Banks had Hamilton’s other touchdown. Medlock added the converts and four field goals.
Matt Carter scored Ottawa’s other touchdown. Maher had the converts and three field goals.
Medlock’s 36-yard field goal capped an entertaining first half and earned Hamilton a 20-17 advantage. It was set up by Craig Butler’s interception that put the Ticats at their own 45-yard line.
The contest began at a fever pitch with TDs on the first three possessions.
Banks took LeFevour’s shovel pass 53 yards for the score on the second play from scrimmage just 58 seconds in before Burris countered with a smart 13-play, 96-yard march he capped with a 10-yard TD toss to Carter at 7:35. But Gable’s 47-yard touchdown run on the Ticats fifth offensive play at 9:29 put them ahead 14-7 as they opened by gaining 158 yards on their first five plays.