How do you lose that game?
It’s a rhetorical question because the only answer is that you don’t. You can’t.
And now, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are looking down the wrong end of the telescope. Already in an 0-2 hole to open a season that they entered with confidence and bravado, next weekend they face a visit to Winnipeg, which only happens to be the home of the Blue Bombers, who have won two straight games. Oh, and also two straight Gray Cups.
The Calgary Stampeders, down 24-3 at halftime as two years’ worth of Hall of Fame inductees looked on, rallied to beat the Ticats 33-30 in overtime Saturday night behind Bo Levi Mitchell’s precise understanding of how toly dissect a defence that seemed solid but was starting to show some cracks.
It was a horrible, and entirely avoidable, loss by the Ticats and their lack of finishing power is becoming an disturbing habit, if you want to count December’s Gray Cup, which those inside the locker-room do not because it’s not quite the same team as seven months ago.
We do count it, so here’s the math: In the fourth quarters of the Gray Cup, last week’s opener in Saskatchewan and Saturday night’s collapse at home (at home), the Tiger-Cats have been outscored by a combined 53-19. If your accountant came up with those numbers, you’d call a forensic auditor.
In the first half, the Ticats had complete control with a rhythmic Dane Evans 21 of his 26 passes in the first half for a whopping 245 yards and touchdown flings to Sean Thomas Erlington, Steve Dunbar and Tim White. The repurposed offensive line was providing him lots of throwing time.
And the defense held the Stampeders to 99 yards of offence, and just three points, in the opening 30 minutes. Calgary, meanwhile, was all thumbs and making critical mistakes on both sides of the ball.
The Ticats could have put the game way for good on either of their first two possessions of the third quarter with a fierce summer wind at their backs. But Evans threw an end zone interception (Titus Wall) from the Stampeder 11-yard line and shortly thereafter, backup quarterback Matt Shiltz came up short on a nine-down sneak from the Calgary.
“We have to come away with points down there,” said head coach Orlondo Steinauer, who’d been honored at halftime for his Canadian Football Hall of Fame induction the previous evening, but admitted he was struggling to find words for this debilitating defeat. “Credit them: they made football plays and we didn’t.”
As Hamilton went south, Calgary went north. Mitchell engineered intelligent drives — and he lost both featured running backs, Ka’Deem Carey and Peyton Logan, to injury — which resulted in a late third-quarter touchdown pass to Luther Hakunavanhu, and, in the final frame, a major to Reggie Begelton and two Rene Paredes field goals, the second of which sent the game into overtime. Michael Domagala’s field goal only 77 seconds earlier had given Hamilton a 30-27 lead.
From the moment the Ticats couldn’t score, twice, from in tight there was an air of inevitability to the Stampeder comeback that rippled through the worried audience of 22,711. The Stampeders made some schematic adjustments and were making plays. The Ticats didn’t do enough of either, which speaks to both those in uniform and those overseeing them. And they aren’t words of praise.
Calgary’s other touchdown in their determined comeback came with four minutes to go, when Evans appeared to have the first down on a third-and-short, and visibly let up, then had the ball stripped by Wall, who ran 45 yards uncontested into the end zone.
“I’ve done those a million times and that play was over,” Evans insisted later. “As soon as the quarterback gets the first, it’s over. Always. They never let (the play) linger. I knew I’d made the first down. It is what it is, but that was probably the biggest momentum shift.”
After limiting the Stampeders to a field goal in overtime. Hamilton appeared to be headed for the potential win but Evans’ pass bounced off Sean Thomas Erlington and was picked off by linebacker Jameer Thurman. Eerily similar to the tipped Jeremiah Masoli pass which ended the Gray Cup overtime.
The Stampeders were justifiably elated, and Mitchell was quick to point out that it wasn’t just his offence which constructed the comeback, but also the defence and Paredes’s consistency.
But although Calgary won this game, it was more that Hamilton lost it. Blew it, actually. Evans and Steinauer zeroed in on not scoring majors after impressive drives. Safety Tunde Adeleke said the defense is still searching for late-game consistency.
“We have to finish and not just talk about it and make it a slogan,” Evans said. “We have to do it.”
And they are not doing it.
NOTES: Bo Levi Mitchell was 28-for-36 for 313 yards overall, two touchdowns and an interception… Dane Evans was 36-for-51 for 425 yards, three TDs and two picks … Until the game’s final play Sean Thomas Erlington had a strong outing, with 72 yards in receptions and another 18 rushing … Tim White had 11 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown and Bralon Addison had 96 receiving yards … Kamar Jordan had seven Calgary receptions for 109 yards … Michael Domagala was 3-for-3 in field goals, but missed one of his two convert attempts.