No excuses and nothing to celebrate. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ tumultuous season was extinguished in brutal fashion in front of a gleeful Rider Nation.
It was Mosaic Stadium but it was more like Greenland as the Saskatchewan Roughriders thumped the Ticats 45-23 Sunday night before a sea of green-clad adoring fans in the 101st Grey Cup.
“We didn’t perform ... There’s no excuses,” said veteran centre Marwan Hage.
“We played a better football team today,” added coach Kent Austin. “They were just better than we were.”
“You’ve got to give Saskatchewan kudos,” said quarterback Henry Burris, named Grey Cup MVP with Calgary in 2008. “They did what they needed to do today to get a big victory. It seemed like offensively we just couldn’t get anything going consistently and when we did, we found ways ourselves to end drives.
“But they made a lot of plays on their side as well. They came out and they kicked our butts today. They are the Grey Cup champions for a reason and they proved it today.”
The upstart 10-8 Tiger-Cats were nomads this season. Without a home base while their new stadium was being built, they rode the buses to train at McMaster University in Hamilton and play games at the University of Guelph.
But they foundered in Regina.
Hamilton scored the opening points, but trailed 7-3 at the end of a first half in which they had the wind at their back. Then the bottom fell out in the second quarter that saw them outscored 24-3.
Saskatchewan led 31-6 at the half, with its 31 points a Grey Cup record for the first half. The Riders’ 25-point lead was the biggest at halftime at a Grey Cup since Hamilton’s 29-0 bulge in 1986.
Even when the Ticats moved two step forwards, there was one step back. In the second quarter, wide receiver Bakari Grant’s 40-yard reception was reduced by 10 yards when the Hamilton player was called for taunting after needlessly rolling the ball forward after the catch.
And big Hamilton lineman Peter Dyakowski, destined for an appearance on “Jeopardy” in April, had to be carted off after get his leg caught blocking on a running play.
The second half didn’t start any better when John Chick sacked Burris for a loss of seven yards. And Rider running back Kory Sheets continued to carve open the Hamilton defence when the Riders got the ball.
An interception ended another Ticats drive.
Nothing worked for the Tiger-Cats. They were outclassed on special teams, their offence sputtered and their tired defence had no answers.
Hamilton did stop the Riders in the third. With the wind at its back, Hamilton outgained the Riders 116 yards to 26 in the third quarter but only outscored the home side 7-0.
There was a small glimmer of hope when Luca Congi’s 33-yard field goal early in the fourth made it 31-16, cutting the lead to two scores.
But a roughing the kicker call against the Ticats with 7:43 left was a killer. Two plays later, Saskatchewan had another TD courtesy of Sheets. A Weston Dressler TD pass made it 45-16 before Hamilton scored a consolation TD run by C.J. Gable.
Hamilton’s tally of Grey Cups remains at 15, including eight as the Tiger-Cats in 1953, 1957, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1972, 1986 and 1999.
In their last trip to the championship game, in 1999, Hamilton defeated Calgary 32-21 at B.C. Place.
Back then, the Ticats led 22-0 early in the third quarter before Calgary scored two TDs to narrow the gap. Hamilton then ripped off 10 more points before the Stamps responded with a late touchdown.
It was the other way around this time. The Riders padded their lead.
The Ticats, whose roster featured 18 first-year CFL players, came into the 2013 game with far less experience than their rivals.
Players on Saskatchewan’s 46-man roster last week had 34 Grey Cups to their credit, compared to Hamilton’s 20. Among starters it was 23 for the Riders to seven for the Ticats.
“These young guys are the future of this organization. This game will pay off,” said the 32-year-old Hage. “Maybe next year, maybe the year after. But it’s going to pay off. This experience that they gathered here today, you can’t just get that. You cannot get this experience. You need to play in it and if you lose, you need to learn from it.”