November 7, 2014

Dunk: Ticats aim to host first Eastern Final since ’98

Adam Gagnon/CFL

Few regular season games carry as much importance as Saturday’s Alouettes-Ticats get together in Hamilton.

There is increased excitement in the Steel City, as all seats are open at Tim Hortons Field for the first time in its history. And the new stadium will be filled to capacity. Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell announced on twitter that the game is sold out and the demand for tickets is the highest the team has seen in seven years.

“The fact that it’s going to be sold out, have a playoff-like atmosphere and environment – we’re fired up. I expect it to be crazy in there,” Ticats offensive lineman Brian Simmons said.

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“I can say since I’ve been here this is the most buzz that I’ve experienced.”

 Hamilton is purring about its Tiger-Cats, who look to earn first place in the East Division with a win by eight points or more against Montreal. A victory by the aforementioned margin means the team would host the Eastern Final for the first time since 1998.

“Hell yeah that’s on my mind. I would love to have a number one seed,” Simmons said. “I’ve never experienced a number one seed since I’ve been in this league.”

In order to make Simmons’ goal a reality, Hamilton will have to defeat a high-flying Montreal squad riding a six-game win streak on the strength of a stingy defence. The Als have not allowed more than 17 points during their string of victories — perhaps a minimum point total Hamilton needs to reach to have a realistic chance to get a win.

“Honestly I think it starts up front,” Simmons said on the key to success against the Montreal defence. “One thing I noticed they do well is they hit you with different fronts and they twist very well. I feel like if we play physical with them, it will be our day.”

It will be a fight for every single yard gained on Saturday. Especially when you consider Hamilton is fully capable of going stop-for-stop with the Alouettes “D”.

“That’s what we’ve been coached on this whole week — that we have to match their defence,” said defensive back Delvin Breaux. “If their defence gets a pick, we have to get a pick. If they get a pick-six, we have to get a pick-six. If they force a fumble and get a fumble recovery, we have to do the same thing. We are playing against their defence.”

Breaux, who recorded his first career interception and returned it for a touchdown last week against Ottawa, just might have the toughest assignment among Ticats defenders, in what will be an intriguing one-on-one matchup to watch throughout the game. Duron Carter is Montreal’s leading pass-catcher, coming off career-highs of 11 catches for 181 yards in Week 19, and often lines up at the short side receiver position.

No. 27 for Hamilton plays many of his snaps at the weak side corner spot — meaning Breaux and Carter will see plenty of each other come game day.

“It’s what I’ve been preparing for, seeing Carter,” Breaux said. “It’s comfortable for me because I’m a guy that plays man-to-man a lot.”

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There is never a dull moment playing in the boundary. It’s a short throw for quarterbacks to make and usually, like Carter, teams put their best receiver on that side of the field. Holding Carter in check and not letting him get loose for any chunk yardage gains is Breaux’s goal.

“I have to track and limit him from big-play opportunities,” Breaux said. “I like the challenge.”

Carter rates among Breaux’s personal top three receivers. And many coaches and pundits across the league would agree, Breaux is one of the best cover men in the CFL. So that sets up an elite showdown between Breaux and Carter, and the winner just might end up deciding which team emerges victorious in Hamilton.