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Jeff Blair

Ticats let the good times roll Add to ...

Angelo Mosca still dominates and resonates here, whether it's slamming his cane against the wall in the pressbox when a pass is dropped or on the end-zone scoreboard when before the game he reads out rules of, um, decorum for Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Those of us lucky enough to live here will play along with the Steel City stuff if it keeps the rest of you happy, even though we know there's more to us than that. But we'll grant you that it gives us our spine, and now that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have set their sights on something significant this fall, the sense here is that maybe - just maybe - this football team's defence is starting to stiffen as well.

"It's like with every week, we build a little bit more of an identity," linebacker Otis Floyd said after Friday night's 24-17 win over the Calgary Stampeders - a victory that very much had a whiff of defining moment to it. "Our pass rush, especially, is coming together. It's one of those things where the more we practice every day, the more we know each other."

The CFL's most pleasant surprise in 2009 is starting to be fleshed out. Grey areas are taking on color. As Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel said before the game the Tiger-Cats do not play a lot of "bad football." Penalties, turnovers, things of that nature. We know this about rookie head coach Marcel Bellefeuille: he has big stones to go along with the courage of his convictions. He and Mike Gibson, the offensive coordinator, have also imbued the team with a sense of calm that shows itself at the strangest times.

"I think that's probably the biggest difference between this year and last year," quarterback Quinton Porter said Friday, after recovering from a wobbly start and spending much of the second quarter hearing chants of 'We want Glenn,' in reference to backup Kevin Glenn. "There's a feeling of calm, a kind of 'just stick with it,' thing. A lot of it comes from the coaches and a lot of it comes from the addition of guys like (offensive tackle) Dan Goodspeed."

Porter's evening did not start providentially. He fumbled on his second play from scrimmage, the ball slipping out of his hands as he dropped back to pass. The Stampeders recovered at the Ti-Cats nine-yard line. Two plays later, the Stampeders had their first major. He dropped the ball again on the second series - this time recovering it - before hitting Arland Bruce III for a 20-yard gain.

Bruce did not only catch what would turn out to be the winning touchdown on a ballsy second and short gamble with third-string QB Adam Tafralis in the game. It can be argued that he played a major role in getting Porter settled, because he broke off his pattern and came back to bail out Porter, who looked panic-stricken in the early stages. Yet there was Porter at the end of the game - managing the clock masterfully. Doing a nice selling job on an unnecessary roughness penalty. Leading his team out from their own two-yard line with 2:43 left.

The Stampeders led 14-3 on turnovers at the end of the first quarter. "And," Floyd said with a slight hint of disgust in the his voice, "they didn't even have to work for it."

The Tiger-Cats defence limited the Stampeders to 271 yards total offence, including 121 yards on the ground by Joffrey Reynolds. But the Stampeders managed just 91 yards in the first half and quarterback Henry Burris was just 3 of 11 for 14 yards. It is not incorrect to say that without a focused defence in the first half the game could have easily slipped out of the Tiger-Cats grasp, given Porter's start. The Tiger-Cats harried and hurried Burris. And while the crowd was small, the defence urged them on all night, forcing the Stampeders to take a time out at one point.

Bellefeuille is performing a delicate balancing act with his quarterbacks - balancing the here and now of winning with the development of Porter. By the end of the game, however, that act looked secondary to the balancing act provided by one fan who - I kid you not - took advantage of a stoppage in play to shimmy up one of the goal-posts, then come down and walk across the crossbar, balancing precariously while police and security personnel waited for him below. "Five years coaching in Saskatchewan - five Labour Days - and I never saw that," said Bellefeuille.

There's a lot going on here that hasn't been seen for awhile. Winning football. Football with a brain. Football that has a clue. So can a stout defence that will make Angie smile be all that far behind? This is Hamilton, after all. Tough as steel, and all that.



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