HAMILTON – Dan LeFevour passed for over 300 yards and ran for over 100 more in a 33-23 Tiger-Cats win over Henry Burris and the Ottawa REDBLACKS Saturday night in Hamilton.
The game was the first of at least two held on the campus of McMaster University while the Ticats await the opening of Tim Hortons Field on the old Ivor Wynne Stadium grounds.
The subplot in the first meeting between these two clubs was the return of Henry Burris, Chevon Walker and John Delahunt to Hamilton. Burris’ exit from Steeltown was well-documented but the latter two left via the 2013 Ottawa Expansion Draft.
If anyone was expecting a conservative start to this one, they were in for a wakeup call. Two teams that have yet to score on their opening drives in 2014 came out on fire with the first three possessions of the game counting for majors.
Hamilton scrimmaged first under the leadership of LeFevour in his first career start. The Central Michigan product was announced the starter after splitting time with Jeremiah Masoli as Zach Collaros recovers from a concussion.
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On the first play from scrimmage, LeFevour found Sam Giguere for a 24-yard gain and then operated some trickery. The rangy pivot faked a handoff to receiver Luke Tasker and flipped the ball to Brandon Banks. The speedy slotback turned up-field, tight-roped the sidelines and accelerated 53 yards for the game’s opening major.
Looking to answer was Burris who was making his first appearance back in Hamilton after setting franchise passing records and leading the Ticats to a Grey Cup last season. Released in the off-season in favour of Collaros, Burris was looking to stick it to his old club despite saying all the right things during the week.
The 15-year vet wasted little time answering Banks’ touchdown, connecting with Marcus Henry, Walker and Delahunt en route to a 14-play, 96-yard drive that was finished off with a quick strike to Matt Carter. The possession covered over 6 minutes and tied things up at 7.
The tie would not last long though, as LeFevour, who has been heralded for his mobility, took a quarterback option down the middle of the Ottawa defence for a 34-yard gain. Two plays later, he pitched the pigskin to sophomore running back CJ Gable who broke through for a 47-yard touchdown scamper to re-take the seven-point lead.
Down by seven and stripped of momentum, issues were compounded for the REDBLACKS on the ensuing kickoff when veteran Justin Phillips had his left leg rolled up on while holding a block. Ottawa’s special teams captain was carried off on a cart and did not return.
The teams traded defensive stops as the first quarter ended but the second quarter began the same way as its predecessor. Burris marched the REDBLACKS with ease as a part of an 11-play, 57-yard drive which was finished off with another impressive pass to Henry who took in a 19-yard touchdown.
With the game tied at 14, Burris went back to work after Ottawa earned a stop. He once again moved his club just inside Hamilton territory before the drive stalled. Punting from the Ticats 48-yard line, punter Brett Maher saw a hole in the coverage and scampered to find Patrick Lavoie for 25-yards on a fake. The reigning Special Teams Player of the Week orchestrated his second fake punt in as many weeks before Burris found Walker for a 17-yard catch and run. The Tiger-Cats defence came up big on the goal line with a pair of stops and Ottawa had to settle for a Maher field goal to give them the lead.
A near carbon copy scenario on Hamilton’s next drive on the strength of handoffs to Banks get inside the Ottawa five yard line but could not punch it in and settled for a Justin Medlock field goal.
Burris and the REDBLACKS took over with 1:45 remaining in the half but an athletic play by safety Craig Butler quickly got Hamilton the ball back with Ottawa threatening. Operating out of the hurry-up offence, LeFevour quickly completed passes to Andy Fantuz, Cary Koch and Tasker to help set up a 36-yard Medlock field goal.
Hamilton entered halftime with a 20-17 lead and needed to credit their ground game in doing so. A lot has been made about the Ticats evolving offensive line but between LeFevour, Banks and Gable, the Tiger-Cats posted 140 rushing yards in the first half alone.
The REDBLACKS were first to strike as the second half got underway. Burris completed passes to Kierre Johnson for 15 yards and Wallace Mile for 17 yards to put Maher in position to tie the game back up, this time at 20.
A 50-yard pass from LeFevour to Koch set up an 18-yard Medlock field goal before the Tiger-Cats seemed primed to score again with just under two minutes remaining in the third. A pass that was bobbled by Koch ended up in the arms of former Winnipeg Blue Bomber DB Jovon Johnson who came up with his first interception of the season. It only resulted in a punt however.
Early on the pairing of Burris and Henry has caused some issues for opposing defences and on the REDBLACKS next scoring drive, the veteran pivot once again relied on his go-to target. Burris found the 5-foot-6, 224-pound pass-catcher three times for gains of 24, 17 and 13 but could once again only get a field goal past Hamilton’s staunch defence to tie the game back up at 23.
Looking to break the seesaw nature of the contest, LeFevour looked to one of his favourite targets to aid the offence in putting the next major up. LeFevour handed off to Gable who navigated his way through blocks and broke free for a 47-yard gain down to the Ottawa three yard line. LeFevour punched it in from there in short yardage and gave Hamilton a 30-23 advantage.
The REDBLACKS had a chance to even things up but in a rather unconventional call, Ottawa chose to gamble on third-and-two with 2:35 still on the clock. The couldn’t execute and the Ticats promptly put another field goal on the board with 50 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Hamilton remains at home to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers while Ottawa returns to Lansdowne to host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their second game at TD Place.