Henry Burris seized the moment.
The veteran quarterback took advantage of what he described as the “electric” atmosphere during the final regular-season game at Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday to lead the Tiger-Cats to a 28-18 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and stave off elimination — at least for one day.
“We had to seize this opportunity because our fans came out today [in the pouring rain],” said Burris, who threw two touchdown passes — his 38th and 39th to tie a career-best. “They were excited about everything taking place with Ivor Wynne, with the all-time team.
“But it wouldn’t have been complete without a victory. We seized the momentum and were able to go out and get the big win over Winnipeg.”
The Blue Bombers (5-12) were eliminated from the playoffs with the loss. Hamilton must now hope either Toronto or Edmonton lose this week in order to still have a shot at the post-season.
“The bottom line for us going into this week is to make sure that we take care of business ourselves because we were the common denominator,” he said. “Regardless of what happened [in the other games], if we didn’t handle our business in this game it was inevitable.”
Chris Williams, Andy Fantuz and Greg Peach each scored touchdowns for the Tiger-Cats (6-11). Winnipeg quarterback Joey Elliott and Terence Edwards each scored for the Bombers.
Burris completed 15 of 27 pass attempts for 171 yards.
Hamilton kicker Luca Congi was good on two of three field-goal attempts, missing a 40-yarder that slipped off the tee, and hitting from 18 and 36 yards.
Winnipeg kicker Justin Palardy was good on his lone attempt, from 22 yards.
Bombers starting QB Buck Pierce left the game with a shoulder injury after an ineffective first quarter and a fumble that was recovered by Peach for a touchdown. He completed two of seven pass attempts for 16 yards before being replaced by Elliott, who threw for one touchdown, one interception and ran for a six-yard TD. He completed 14 of 29 pass attempts for 126 yards.
Hamilton jumped out to a 22-0 lead and Bombers coach Tim Burke believes it was just too difficult to overcome as both Pierce and Elliott got off to slow starts.
“It’s just one of those things where you have to hang in there and hopefully your chance at coming back in the course of the game happens earlier than what it did in this game,” he said. “You saw us fight back in the second half and I think it was a different game.
“But that’s the thing: you can’t get off to a slow start like that. It’s hard for any team to overcome that.”
“It’s never the situation you want to be in as a quarterback, especially in a rain game,” he said. “You want to try and play from out front. We were trying to play from behind, trying to throw the football . . . We were fighting. We were one block away, one read away, one thing away and you can’t have that on the road, especially when you’re losing.”
Peach’s touchdown off of Pierce’s fumble in the first quarter was a key play, said Ticats head coach George Cortez.
“The defensive touchdown was a huge play,” he said. “It’s always nice when you have points and the offence didn’t go out on the field but having said that sometimes when those things happen you go into relax mode and I don’t think we did that. I think we stayed after them pretty good. I think the Bombers bounced back pretty good from it, too. They stayed in the game.”
With identical 5-11 records at the bottom of the CFL East Division, both teams were in danger of losing the East’s third and final playoff spot to a West Division team in a crossover. Both Hamilton and Winnipeg needed to win their final two games to stay in the hunt.
Now the Ticats’ attention turns to Edmonton and Toronto. Hamilton needs the Eskimos to lose both its remaining games this season to avoid the crossover. Failing that, they need Toronto to lose this week, and then they need to beat the Argos next week by nine points or more.
It was a rainy and slick end to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ final regular-season game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Although it was announced as a sellout, the crowd looked spotty as many didn’t fill their seats in the downpour. The stadium was built in 1928 and will be demolished in December to make room for a new facility in time for the Pan American Games.
The Ticats announced an all-time team in the pre-game show and celebrated the 1972 Hamilton Tiger-Cats at half-time — the only Ticat team to win a Grey Cup on home turf.
Hamilton took a 22-3 halftime lead. Congi added to it with an 18-yard field goal on their opening possession of the third, a drive set up by a 41-yard punt return by Onrea Jones to the Winnipeg 31. But the Bombers answered late in the quarter with a 53-yard drive that ended with Elliott’s TD run to pull to 25-10.
In the fourth, the Hamilton defence made a stand at third-and-two at the Winnipeg 37 and the Ticats took over with three minutes left. That led to Congi’s 36-yard field goal and a 28-10 score.
Geoff Tisdale intercepted Elliott at the Hamilton 19 with 1:13 left. When the Ticat offence couldn’t run out the clock, a 39-yard punt return by Jovon Johnson set up a 41-yard touchdown pass from Elliott to Edwards with a two-point conversion to pull to 28-18 but it was too little too late.