Henry Burris called it true playoff football but that was no cookie-cutter, CFL playoff game that sent the Hamilton Tiger-Cats into Sunday’s Eastern Final against the Toronto Argonauts. Questionable coaching decisions, giving Mother Nature the bird on a day in which she was present in all her blustery glory – going with revolving quarterbacks both in regulation and in overtime.
Kent Austin has won a ton of CFL games as quarterback; Sunday he pulled one out of his butt as a head coach. And when the Tiger-Cats’ 19-16 win over the Montreal Alouettes was over, Austin felt like revisiting a reckless, cross-field pitch-and-pass in the third quarter from receiver Dave Stala for Andy Fantuz on the goal-line that was incomplete.
The Alouettes intercepted the ball on the next play, the Tiger-Cats’ final offensive play with the wind – which gusted to 60 kilometres per hour on a day that alternated between rain, hail and brilliant sunshine.
“Wasn’t that a great ball Dave threw?” Austin asked reporters later. Reckless? Who said reckless?
Austin left a time-out on the table to end the first half, kissing away a chance at points when Neil King blocked a Burke Dales punt but couldn’t advance the ball into the end-zone. It was the final play of a second quarter in which with the wind at their back the Ticats turned over the ball on the Alouettes’ two-yard line when C.J. Gable was nailed for a four-yard loss on third and two – the Ticats tried to go east-west when north-south was called for.
And, hey, what about a field goal? Whatever happened to taking the points in the playoffs?
Say this about Austin: he has the courage of his convictions.
After Sean Whyte kicked a field goalfor the Alouettes in overtime, the Ticats ran eight plays on their overtime drive, and Danny LeFevour was at QB for six of them, all of them runs including two third-down conversions and an 11-yard scamper on the penultimate play of the game in which he ran over Marc-Olivier Brouillette. The final two yards came – wait for it – out of the shot-gun formation. “We were playing for the win,” Austin responded when asked if he’d thought for even a second about a field goal.
And when it was over, Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich told a Sunday night conference call that while the Ticats aren’t the first team to use two or even three QBs in a game, Austin had just made this week more difficult. LeFevour had six pass attempts and 61 yards rushing on 18 carries. Sometimes he stayed in for full drives; sometimes just one or two plays. “You have to prepare for two different styles of offence,” said Milanovich, who confirmed that running back Chad Kackert will not play in the final, after injuring his ankle in practice. “So, it takes time out of your practice.”
Mercifully for the Tiger-Cats, the elements seemed to take a bit of a break when they embarked on a 12-play, 97-yard drive into the wind in the fourth quarter for their only touchdown. Balls that fluttered in the first half suddenly became tighter and truer. Playmakers made plays and 10 of those plays were passes, as Hamilton put the game in Burris’s hands with Montreal holding a 10-6 lead.
“Philosophically, we decided we were going to empty it out and put it on Hank’s shoulders,” Austin said. “We talked about Danny, but at the end of the day Hank’s got a lot of experience and been in these situations before. We just said: ‘Hank, you’re going to have to find receivers and understand coverage.’”
And so he did. On a day when playoff logic was sometimes stood on its head, it was one of the few times the form-chart held.