HAMILTON — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are in the Grey Cup for the second straight year. Brandon Banks and Nic Grigsby each scored two touchdowns and the defence picked off Jonathan Crompton three times, leading the Ticats to a 40-24 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in Sunday’s Eastern Final at Tim Hortons Field.
You could say it was a game of many triumphant returns, as Banks scored touchdowns of 93 and 88 yards on two punt return, leading a sudden second-quarter turnaround and the Ticats to their second Grey Cup appearance in as many years.
The Alouettes jumped out to an early lead on S.J. Green’s second touchdown of the playoffs, and then again in the second on Green’s second of the game. But late in the first half down by a single point, Banks turned the game on an electrifying 88-yard return.
Hamilton, now 7-0 at brand new Tim Hortons Field this year, never relinquished the lead, despite Green’s third touchdown of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
Grigsby led the Ticats’ offence with 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, while Zach Collaros played game-manager in throwing for 199 yards on 18-of-27 passing. The Ticats’ greatest performances were on defence and special teams, though, where Banks did his work and Delvin Breaux had a pick and held Duron Carter to just three catches.
Green was the top offensive producer in the game for both teams, catching six passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Alouettes. Crompton finished with 315 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-38 passing in the loss.
After a two-and-out on their first offensive series, the Alouettes got moving downfield one set of downs at a time. Three different times they converted on second down, including a 15-yard catch-and-run by speedster Mardy Gilyard to set the offence up at the Hamilton 22.
Related: Eastern Final
Nic Grigsby is tackled on his way to the Alouettes’ end zone. The Ticats’ rookie running back had two touchdowns in Hamilton’s 40-24 win.
The 22-yard touchdown strike was Green’s second of the playoffs, capping off a six-play, 66-yard drive and giving the Alouettes a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Ticats appeared to have the game tied up minutes later, when Banks hit a seam along the right sideline and ran untouched into the end zone. A holding penalty nullified the play though, while a pair of Luke Tasker catches set up a Justin Medlock 32-yard field goal to cut Hamilton’s deficit to 7-3.
With the Ticats on the doorstep and looking to score again, the Alouette defence struck with a potential game-changing play.
Collaros picked up the first down and looked to get down on the field, but had the ball knocked out of his grasp by Winston Venable. Safety Mike Edem recovered, ending the Ticats’ scoring threat.
Not to be outdone, though, the Ticat defence had a game-changing play of its own on the very next possession. Crompton was picked off by Breaux, putting the ball right back in the hands of Collaros and the Hamilton offence.
Looking for redemption, the elusive Collaros moved the chains again with his legs, tacking on a 15-yard personal foul on a hit by Montreal’s Kyries Hebert. Grigsby finished off the drive from there, taking the handoff and making a quick cut to find paydirt to provide Hamilton a 10-7 lead – its first of the game.
Crompton and the Als looked to put that last interception behind them, starting another long march with second-down conversions by Brandon Rutley and Gilyard. In second and long, the drive appeared to be over after an incomplete pass along the sideline to Carter
But the Alouettes challenged for defensive pass interference and won the review, keeping the drive alive and moving the sticks into Hamilton territory. After a first-down pickup on a catch-and-run by the slippery Gilyard, Crompton went right back to his towering go-to target in the end zone.
Catching the ball in front of coverage was Green for his second major of the game, ending a 10-play drive with a nine-yard score to give the Als a 14-10 lead.
A 22-yard run on a screen pass by Mossis Madu set up a 20-yard field goal by Medlock, making this a one-point game with just over a minute left in the half.
Just like in the second quarter, a big defensive play provided a game-changing moment for the Ticats early in the third. This time Crompton was picked off by ‘Cats linebacker Erik Harris near midfield, while a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty added to the return to set the offence up at the 38.
Collaros drove the Ticats downfield both with his legs and a pair of tight sideline completions to Banks, setting up Grigsby’s second rushing touchdown of the game from two yards out. The turnover-assisted drive made it 27-14 Hamilton as the Ticats continued their momentum surge.
The Alouettes added a 33-yard field goal to pull to within 10 heading to the fourth, before getting back in the game in a big way just minutes later. With a free play after the Ticats jumped offside, Crompton hit Green again just over the outstretched hands of Breaux, and he went untouched from there, going 63 yards for the a crowd-silencing score.
With 9:49 left in the game and their lead slipping, the Ticats needed an answer. Collaros found his running back Grigsby for a first-down gain along the sideline. First downs by Banks and Madu kept the chains moving, before Medlock finally finished the drive off with a 42-yard field goal — his third of the game.