HAMILTON — The Ticats are home to face the Bombers on Saturday afternoon, as they look to close out the final regular season game at Ivor Wynne Stadium with an important divisional win.
Every team in the East remains in the race for a playoff berth, and for these two division foes Saturday afternoon presents a chance to move one step closer to getting some post-season action in 2012.
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For Henry Burris and the Black and Gold, they are looking to give their fans one last regular season game to remember at their old barn and bounce back from a loss where they played one of their best performances of the season on a snow-covered field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
An impressive late comeback effort came up just short on a last-play field goal attempt, when the ball slipped off the tee forcing holder Andy Fantuz to pull it away, ending the game in a 34-32 Stampeders win.
Burris threw for 354 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a late score to Chris Williams on a long last-minute drive to give the Tabbies a chance to tie it up.
The Stamps forced an incompletion on the two-point conversion attempt, but Hamilton recovered an onside kick from Luca Congi that couldn’t have been more perfect. Burris took over again, leading the Ticats deep into scoring range thanks to another long completion to Williams. But it wasn’t enough in the end.
With a return trip to Ivor Wynne coming quickly though, followed by an invasion of the Rogers Centre to duel with the hated Argos, this week Burris and the ‘Cats have their focused pinned squarely on Winnipeg, and the task of getting into the playoffs.
“I’ll have to deal with it when I go home in the off-season, but right now, it’s all about doing what we need to do to get into these playoffs,” said Burris of Saturday’s loss.
Next on the slate is the Bombers who have won both matchups with the `Cats this year.
Joey Elliott stopped a Ticats early-season surge back in mid-August, leading a go-ahead touchdown drive in the dying minutes of the game en-route to a 32-25 Bombers win. The backup quarterback threw for 406 yards and a touchdown, in his first start since being a rookie.
The second game, meanwhile, saw Buck Pierce return from injury to throw for 288 yards and a touchdown in a 34-12 win for Winnipeg.
“Winnipeg is a team that we need to beat, because we felt like we could have won two games out there playing against them and now they’re coming to our house,” said Burris. “They’re playing great football and putting a lot of points on the board.”
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“We’ve got to be ready to eliminate those mistakes that we had on offence, put the ball in the end zone, and hopefully make them one-dimensional if we can.”
Saturday’s game marks the perfect opportunity for the Ticats to make a statement and get back on track in the playoff hunt, with plenty of emotions in the fold for the final game at Ivor Wynne.
First-year head coach George Cortez said this game is more than just another home game, and the importance of it isn’t lost on his players.
“I mentioned it today and I said that for some of the guys, it probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal right now,” said the coach. “A few years down the road, it probably will.”
“Not too many times do you play or coach in a place where it is the going to be the last time for the stadium.”
Burris, meanwhile, has experienced Ivor Wynne through most of his career as a visitor – but knows that it’s truly one of a kind.
“Being a visitor for more years than I’ve been a member of the home team, there’s so much intensity in this ballpark,” he said. “To me, there’s no other atmosphere like this in the league.”
“To me, this stadium here exemplifies the people of Hamilton – the hard-nosed, blue-collar atmosphere that’s here. When you come here on game day, you can feel it in the air.
When big plays happen, you see how the crowd erupts here,” Burris adds.
“It feels like a college football game in the States when you see the stadium shaking – the camera shaking – because the people are so passionate about the game and so passionate about supporting their own here at Ivor Wynne.”
The Bombers, on the other hands, would love nothing more than to storm into Ivor Wynne and steal the thunder in the Ticats’ final game there. They can take pride in the fact that they’ll be the visitor at the historic stadium, and getting a win in such hostile territory would be a nice feather in their cap.
Moreover, a win would keep the Bombers alive and well in their playoff hunt, with a chance to head into the season’s final week in the middle of the post-season picture, depending on the result of Edmonton’s visit to Montreal on Sunday.
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Buck Pierce threw for 288 yards and a touchdown on 21-31 passing in his return from injury, as the Bombers won their second of the season over Hamilton 34-12 at Canad Inns Stadium. Chad Simpson had 134 yards on 19 carries, while on defence the Blue and Gold had its best effort of the season after holding the Ticats out of the end zone entirely. Henry Burris had 11 completions for 156 yards for Hamilton, which was kept in check through most of the night.
Head Coach Tim Burke’s team has certainly turned heads of late, with two wins in its last three games, including impressive road wins over the Argos and Alouettes – the East Division’s top two teams.
It continued last week at the Rogers Centre in a 44-32 win over the Boatmen, rushing for 260 yards as a team and controlling the pace throughout the entire game.
Rookie Chad Simpson eclipsed 1,000 yards in his first CFL season despite missing the first three weeks of the year with an injury, rushing for 136 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against the Argos.
Meanwhile, another rookie in Will Ford has his breakout game, scampering for 85 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
As if that wasn’t enough, Alex Brink provided some spark from the wildcat formation, running the ball 10 times for 31 yards and scoring twice in close range.
The explosion on offence dates back to a few weeks ago in a win against the Alouettes, with the Blue and Gold scoring 92 points over the last three games.
A lot of that, according to Burke, can be attributed to the improved play on the offensive line.
“Our offensive line, if you look at film early in the season to late in the season, they look like a totally different offensive line,” said Burke. “Our young guys, they’ve matured as we’ve gone along and that’s helped us get better.”
The Bombers have one of the youngest lines in the league, with an average age of 27 years old. Led by veterans Glenn January and Steve Morley, it’s played a major role in the team’s renewed confidence offensively.
“They’re a very tight group, and they’ve stuck it through some hard times earlier in the year,” said offensive line coach Pat Delmonaco.
“With everything we do it’s rare that one guy is by himself, so they have to learn how to play with one another,” he continued. “They’ve done that. They’ve competed from the very first day they’ve walked on the field, whether it’s practice or games, and they’ve gotten better.”
For right guard Chris Greaves, it’s a matter of confidence and aggression.
“We have a sort of chemistry going on now, it comes with the time together and now we’re kind of settling into things,” said Greaves, the youngest on the starting line at 25 years old.
“Our comfort level’s grown, and we’re definitely more aggressive in the run game now I’d say just because we’re relishing the opportunity to tee off on people.”
The Bombers know they’ll have an opportunity to do plenty more damage on the ground, going up against a Ticats defence that’s given up a league-worst 515 points this season.
Either way, with a Bombers offence that continues to gain momentum and a Ticats team that boasts many of the league’s most dangerous weapons, we could be in for a classic finale at Ivor Wynne.
Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from Ticats.ca/BlueBombers.com