Fraser Caldwell | Ticats.ca Staff
HAMILTON -- It was the dagger that ended a dominant first quarter for the Black and Gold. In the wake of a Chad Owens fumble, Henry Burris had marched his offence downfield with the frame dwindling. But even while the sand poured from the hourglass, the Tiger-Cats would notch a second touchdown and gift one of their prized receivers an important milestone.
Because when Burris pumped and froze the Argonauts defenders – lobbing a floating pass over the middle – it was Andy Fantuz who calmly gathered the offering for his first major score in Black and Gold.
In the end, the ex-Roughrider’s contribution to his team’s Saturday victory would be overshadowed by a near-mythical performance from Chris Williams and the late-game heroism of Burris. But while it may not prove to be the most memorable moment of the Tiger-Cats’ first win of 2012, Fantuz’ major underscored a solid evening for the lauded off-season acquisition, as he accumulated 71 yards on three catches.
More important than those statistics is the trend that has seen Fantuz enlarging his role within the Black and Gold’s offence with each passing game. It is a trend that encourages the Tiger-Cats’ play caller Burris, who believes that Fantuz’ growth parallels that of his fellow receivers.
“Each week we’re starting to hook up on more and more stuff,” says the veteran pivot. “That’s how we knew the progression would go, because we’re going to face different circumstances and situations. He’s trying to get used to my ball compared to Darian Durant’s, who he played with for a long time. So there are a lot of different changes going on as far as his getting comfortable with the offence.
“We’re putting the guys in different places to make plays and give them opportunities to do just that. We’re all learning on the fly, and I’m learning where to put the balls in different circumstances and where they like it best. That growth will continue on, but we’re communicating with either other and making sure that we’re making those steps together.”
The Tiger-Cats’ Head Coach George Cortez argues that Fantuz’ continued improvement stems from his increased experienced within the Black and Gold’s offensive structure, which lends familiarity to his constant skill set.
“Well Andy’s a pretty good player anyway,” says Cortez of his receiver. “I’d say that he probably understands what we’re doing on offence better and better as he goes along, because he’s gaining more experience in how we call things and our anticipation in certain routes against certain coverages.”
The Tiger-Cats are under no illusions as they enter the fourth week of the CFL schedule, knowing as they do that their offence has much room to improve despite Saturday’s welcome victory. Fantuz himself is uncompromising in his assessment, as he speaks of his desire to eliminate the mistakes he witnessed against the Argonauts.
“I’m just trying to do whatever’s asked of me to win the game,” says the receiver of his performance. “I had a few opportunities to make some plays that I left out there on Saturday, so I need to be better. As an offence we need to be better, but we got the win and we’re moving on.”
Burris expressed similar sentiments, issuing a reminder that the team still boasts a losing record with the always difficult Alouettes looming.
“You can see that guys are very excited about getting the first win,” admits the quarterback. “But the thing is that the hunger is still there and the guys want to keep getting better. We’re still 1-2, we don’t have a winning record and we’re not in first place, but we’ve got a chance to join that team that’s in first place in Montreal.
“We’ve got a great opportunity coming up this week. Guys around this team just want to work on getting better because we know that regardless of the victory there are still things that we can do a lot better. We want to reach that potential and do it as soon as possible.”
Fantuz is well aware that continuing his and the team’s forward progress will be no simple task against Montreal, whose defensive stalwarts are quite familiar to the veteran CFLer.
“They’ve had a strong defence for years,” says the Tiger-Cat receiver of the Alouettes. “They’ve always had a good front line, and they’ve got a couple of veterans in their secondary that have been there for a while and been among the most dominant players in the league. It’s going to be fun going against them – it always is – and I expect a good game.”
Entertaining football seems like a given when the Ticats and Alouettes clash on Saturday, and it is the hope of the Black and Gold that their offensive prowess can tilt that entertainment decisively in their favour.