The silver linings abound here in the Ambitious City, albeit under steel grey skies.
You say quarterback controversy?
Bah. Shows how little you know. Having Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter shuffle in and out for the past three games is a sign of depth. The enviable possession of a change-up.
Playing the East Division semi-final on Sunday, on the road at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium?
A blessing! A gift from the football gods after consecutive home semi-final losses; the chance to be a clear underdog at – what? – 1,000 to 1, at least.
And, please. Don’t even bother bringing up Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo and all those passing records. Or the Alouettes’ dominance of the division in recent seasons. Piffle.
“We know them as a front-runner,” Hamilton Tiger-Cats veteran receiver Dave Stala said this week. “You saw what happened [in a 43-1 loss to the B.C. Lions last weekend]when you get some pressure on A.C. That’s what we need to do. Get on them early, because once they get behind, they start scrambling a bit.”
While the Als limped into the semi-final having lost their last three games, the Ticats seemed to spend their time figuring out how to complicate matters.
Despite indicating Glenn would be the postseason starter, Marcel Bellefeuille’s decision to run out Porter at the beginning of the Oct. 29 game in Saskatchewan had anonymous players publicly questioning the head coach and criticizing him for creating confusion. Given the strange stagnancy that set in – the Ticats have known for weeks they’d finish third in the East and be a road team, awaiting only the identity of their semi-final foe – it might yet prove to be a masterstroke by Bellefeuille: a necessary shock to the system of a team that has slipped into the mediocrity of repeated seasons spent hovering at or around the .500 mark.
You can slice and dice Sunday’s game, but in the end, the Ticats know they cannot get another non-descript performance from their quarterback if they are to beat the Alouettes.
They have weapons. The playoffs are why the Ticats went out and pursued free-agent running back Avon Cobourne, Marcus Thigpen is a multiposition game-breaker and, in many ways, the Als are the reason the Ticats overhauled their receiving corps this season (moves that included ditching Arland Bruce III).
Bellefeuille cited the Alouettes’ success in utilizing the height of S.J. Green and Jamel Richardson as the reason behind throwing in his lot with taller receiving presences such as Bakari Grant and Aaron Kelly at a time when many CFL coaches claim clutching and grabbing is a staple of defensive zone coverage.
Stala and the East Division rookie of the year – receiver/kick-return specialist Chris Williams, who sat out two of the final three regular-season games – aren’t cut from that cloth. The former is a crafty receiver best utilized as a second option who has been lost slightly in the transition away from Bruce, while Williams is a burner that his veteran teammate says “gets smarter with every game.”
Williams said the CFL game “started to slow down for me” with increased repetitions. He began to process details, such as the fact that what would have been a 10-yard out pattern at New Mexico State University “become a 40- or 50-yard throw for the quarterback on this field.” He says his background in track and field as a state high-school champion, coupled with the intricacies of the CFL game, means deception is also a subtle part of his arsenal.
“I’m lucky, because as a track guy I know how to run smoothly,” the New Mexico native said. “That allows me to do some things behind the line of scrimmage, as well as just take off down the field and run a route.”
Perhaps deception is what the Ticats need. Not much else has worked in recent postseasons, so why not try to pull a rabbit out of the hat?