June 22, 2011

Early returns: Ticats prevail in pre-season fog


HAMILTON — It doesn’t count in the standings but for Kevin Glenn and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, it was a statement win.

Marcus Thigpen and Chris Williams had return touchdowns as Hamilton rolled over the Montreal Alouettes 57-20 in CFL exhibition action on a foggy Wednesday night.

Montreal has been the class of the East Division, appearing in three straight Grey Cup games and winning the last two. Hamilton has finished second to the Alouettes the past two seasons but each time saw a campaign of promise end bitterly in the first round of the playoffs.

This off-season Hamilton bolstered its offence by signing free-agent tailback Avon Cobourne, who helped Montreal win its last two CFL titles. But to win the East, the Ticats will have to prove they can beat the Alouettes and Glenn said there was no time like the present for his club to create that mindset.

“The attitude and atmosphere we want to build around here is winning, regardless of whether it’s a pre-season game, regular season or playoffs, we want to win,” Glenn said. “We lost our first pre-season game (31-12 to Toronto) and you don’t want to go into the season without a win.

“You want to make sure the young guys experience a win so they know what it feels like . . . That’s the team to beat in the East and that’s what we did.”

Glenn finished 13-of-25 passing for 118 yards in his first exhibition action before backup Quinton Porter started the second half. Thigpen provided the opening half’s biggest play, taking a kickoff 100 yards for a TD to delight the enthusiastic Ivor Wynne Stadium gathering of 26,732.

Williams had the crowd back on its feet in the third by returning a punt 91 yards to put the Ticats ahead 30-17. His TD came after a thick blanket of fog had rolled in following halftime and kick-started a 17-point third that put the home side comfortably ahead 40-17.

“That was a little bit odd,” Ticats’ coach Marcel Bellefeuille said of the fog. “A player went off because he couldn’t see through his visor and had to get someone else in at the last second.

“I couldn’t find the ball and give the receivers credit they were finding the ball in the fog. For some reason our deep ball got better in the fog than it was before so that’s a bit ironic.”

Veteran defensive end Stevie Baggs, who joined the Ticats midway through last season, echoed Glenn’s sentiments regarding the importance of the win.

“It’s a pre-season game, wins and losses don’t matter but it’s the statement made,” Baggs said. “The win matters because it’s the foundation to the mansion we’re trying to build here.”

However, Bellefeuille put the contest into perspective.

“I want people to get excited about our team but not this win,” he said. “When the score was lopsided in the last two minutes I still wanted to see us still playing hard and we did.

“To me, that was more important than the score. From halftime on it was our backups against their backups and so it is what it is.”

A positive for Montreal was starter Anthony Calvillo showing well in his first action of the pre-season. The CFL’s outstanding player the last two seasons completed both passes he tried for 33 yards before giving way to Adrian McPherson after three series.

“You never want to lose that bad in the first place and we realize that in this locker-room,” Calvillo said. “But we’re not going to lose too much sleep over this.

“We have a veteran group, we know what to expect out of ourselves. We’ll get over it and get ready for the regular season.”

Porter, Marquay McDaniel and Terry Grant had the other TDs for Hamilton (1-1). Justin Medlock booted four field goals and a convert while Eric Wilbur added three field goals, two converts and a single. Josh Maveety had the other two converts.

Brandon Whitaker and S.J. Green scored the touchdowns for Montreal (1-1). Sean Whyte had a field goal and two converts while former Ticat Sandro DeAngelis kicked a field goal.

The contest was the last of the pre-season for both teams, who have until 3 p.m. ET on Saturday to make their final roster cuts.

Montreal kicks off the regular season June 30 hosting the B.C. Lions. Hamilton will open at home against Winnipeg on July 1.

Despite scoring 57 points, Hamilton’s offence had trouble finishing a lot of drives, giving Medlock and Wilbur plenty of chances in their battle for the club’s kicking job.

Medlock hit all four of his attempts – his longest being 34 yards. Wilbur had three field goals – including ones from 42 and 49 yards – but missed a 21-yard boot late in the first half.

Bellefeuille has more to consider than just kicking accuracy.

Whoever wins the job will also have to handle punting and kickoff duties because Hamilton has other needs – most notably in the secondary – that prevent it from using two roster spots on kickers.

Medlock averaged 44.5 yards on his two punts while Wilbur posted a 46-yard average on his two attempts. Both also averaged 60-plus yards on their kickoffs.

“It’s a very promising area,” Bellefeuille said. “That was one of the areas in the off-season we felt we needed to strengthen and we did.”

Cobourne faced his former team for the first time. Cobourne, who helped Montreal win the last two Grey Cups before signing as a free agent with the Ticats, ran for 40 yards on six carries.

McPherson was a tidy seven-of-10 passing for 116 yards and a TD before being replaced by Ricky Santos late in the first half.

NOTES — Alouettes defensive end Anwar Stewart will be honoured Thursday in Montreal for his outstanding community work. Calvillo will present Stewart with an award recognizing his nine-year effort helping Montreal youth . . . Barring injury, Calvillo will surpass Damon Allen as the most prolific passer in pro football history. Calvillo needs 4,221 yards to erase Allen’s mark of 72,381. Calvillo also needs nine TD passes, 119 completions and 1,107 pass attempts to move past Allen as the league leader in those categories as well.