A playoff berth gives the Hamilton Tiger-Cats a fresh opportunity, as far as head coach Kent Austin is concerned.
“The only thing that matters up to this point is what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown as a football player,” he said. “How we’ve grown as a football team. Because you really can wash it all away. Because the year comes down to one game now and two games to get to the Grey Cup, and we just have to play our best football. We have a chance.”
The Ticats finished the CFL regular season on a two-game losing streak, with a 32-25 home loss to the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday. Their 7-11 record puts them in second spot in the East Division, behind Ottawa and tied with Montreal. But Hamilton gains the playoff berth because they hold the tiebreaker with two earlier victories against the Als.
The Tiger-Cats host the Edmonton Eskimos next week in the East semifinal. Edmonton finished fourth in the West but won a crossover spot with a better record than Montreal.
Hamilton has also lost its last four home games, last winning at Tim Hortons Field on Sept. 16 – against Montreal. They are 1-5 since then.
“We’ve got to flush this one and get ready for the real season,” said Hamilton starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who played most of the first quarter of the game before giving way to third-stringer Jeff Mathews. “Everything to this point is in the past and we’re excited for the challenge.”
Collaros completed 8-of-12 pass attempts for 134 yards, but he couldn’t connect with his receivers in the end zone, including a couple dropped balls, and took a couple solid hits before leaving the game.
“They’re a very physical bunch, that’s kind of their modus operandi it’s always a challenge playing them,” he said about Montreal, one of the league’s strongest defences.
Collaros missed the first six games of the season recovering from knee surgery and later two games due to a concussion.
Hamilton was guaranteed a playoff berth heading in, so the Ticats rested several players, including defensive standout Simoni Lawrence and top receiver Terrence Toliver – as well as pulling Collaros early. So Austin said he was happy with how the team played overall.
Meanwhile, Montreal’s rookie quarterback Vernon Adams threw three touchdown passes for the win in just his third CFL start.
“We wanted to finish the season strong, going into the off-season feeling good about ourselves for next year,” said the 23-year-old who has led the Als on this three-game win streak to end the season. “We all feel good. It’s a tight group and I’m just happy with the fight we all had.” He completed 16-of-28 pass attempts for 257 yards and had zero picks.
Samuel Giguere caught two of those TD passes and B.J. Cunningham caught another, while Stefan Logan added a punt return TD for Montreal. Brian Tyms and Anthony Woodson each scored touchdowns for Hamilton.
Hamilton kicker Brett Maher made all three of his field-goal attempts, from 25, 43 and 51 yards out. Montreal kicker Boris Bede hit his lone field-goal attempt, from 16 yards.
Mathews entered the game at QB late in the first quarter and completed 18-of-29 pass attempts for 201 yards, one TD and one interception.
“It seems it’s been two seasons, first 12 games (and) last six games,” said veteran Montreal receiver Nik Lewis about a year which saw numerous quarterback changes and controversy that seemed to calm down once receivers Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford were released. “Man, these guys are amazing to come out the last three weeks and really put it on the line. Nobody played not-to-get-hurt for the off-season. Everyone played for everyone on the team.”Report Typo/Error