When this year's Hamilton Tiger-Cats get thoroughly embarrassed by a Canadian n opponent, you can typically expect a fiery response.
Even after a long and sombre train ride home from Montreal and hours of intensive film study, the Ticats struggle to explain how they could go from expertly beating the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts in back-to-back games, to allowing the Alouettes to totally annihilate them a week later. But if recent history is any indication, after the Ticats get humiliated, they come out firing.
The 8-8 Ticats meet Montreal again Saturday in Guelph during the second-last week of the regular season. The foes will also face off in the East semi-final on Nov. 10, but the location is still up for grabs. Hamilton, second in the division, can secure the home playoff game with a win Saturday. If third-place Montreal wins, they could still steal home-field advantage before the regular season ends.
Out west, the Calgary Stampeders (13-3) can clinch the CFL's West Division with a win or a tie against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday. The Roughriders (11-5) can extend the race for first into the final week of the regular season with a win.
The Ticats haven't lost two in a row since late July. It's hardly the picture of consistency, but they seem to answer a loss with a win.
"I would have never expected us to play the way that we did last week," Ticats coach Kent Austin said. "But I do know that this year, we have shown the ability to bounce back when we haven't played well."
Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris points to his team's Week 14 35-11 beat-down in Calgary, which they followed with the pair of wins over Toronto. Burris, the CFL's leading passer, thought of that as he tried to digest the film of last week's 36-5 loss in Montreal.
"I didn't recognize that team on the field playing. It was quite embarrassing, honestly," said Burris, who completed just 11 of 23 passes for 106 yards and a pick and also had a fumble.
"I missed some reads that I was like 'man, I've made that read all season long, why couldn't I make that?' We saw guys who made certain blocks all season and they didn't do it that day. There were lots of things; it was like a snowball effect. It was a wakeup call for us. Just because we won two straight over the defending Grey Cup champions, doesn't mean we're invincible, and Montreal proved that to us."
Hamilton couldn't account for why Montreal out-muscled its offence and caused them to get often stuck in second-and-long situations. But they say they have adjusted for Saturday.
"They're physical in their secondary, they fly around, they blitz a lot, so if you don't play physical football, they are going to push you all over the field, and that's what they did to us," Burris said. "We played with grit in some games this year, and in those games, we were very successful on offence. Well here is another one where we've been checked at the door, and we have to rise up and be men."
Montreal started the season poorly, struggling with injuries or shaky play from its quarterbacks, but is now thundering to the finish line. Pivot Troy Smith made his first CFL start last week, completing 17 of 35 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
"He can extend the plays, he has a strong live arm and made a lot of big plays for them, but it's not about him, it's about us not settling," Ticats linebacker Brandon Isaac said. "We won two games against Toronto and then came out like we made it. Hopefully, that's not the case on Saturday, and we can win a very important ball game. I'm going to get to [Smith] a few times, I just know it."
Toronto clinched the East division with a 36-21 victory over Winnipeg on Thursday, along with the bye to the East final, where they will eventually meet either Montreal or Hamilton at Rogers Centre on Nov. 17.