HAMILTON — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats earned their first division title since 1998, after outlasting the Montreal Alouettes for a 29-15 victory on Saturday afternoon at a sold out Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
Needing an eight-point margin of victory, the Ticats opened things up in the fourth quarter to earn a decisive win over the Alouettes, clinching not only a playoff spot over the idle Argos but the right to host the Eastern Final on Nov. 23, in a stadium where the Ticats are now 6-0 this season.
After defeating the REDBLACKS on Friday night, the Argos needed a Hamilton loss in order to make the post-season. The Ticats needed to win outright to make the playoffs, while a win by eight points or more would put them in the Eastern Final.
In a game dominated by defence on a rainy, windy day in Hamilton, Brandon Banks and Nic Grigsby each scored in the second half, helping the Ticats out-duel the league’s hottest defence on the way to their biggest win of the year.
Zach Collaros threw for 207 yards on 20-of-28 passing with one touchdown and an interception, including a fourth-quarter touchdown to Brandon Banks. Grigsby, meanwhile, played a pivotal role in the Ticats’ offence, carrying the rock 19 times for 93 yards and what turned out to be the all-important division-clinching touchdown.
The Ticats won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half, while the Alouettes elected to take the wind in the second quarter on a blustery early-November day in the Hammer.
A quick two-and-out by the Montreal defence gave the Alouettes some momentum straight out of the gate, but their fortunes quickly reversed on the next play when James Rodgers fumbled on the punt return.
Collaros and the ‘Cats took over deep in Montreal territory, but after a first-down completion to Samuel Giguere had to settle for a chip shot from Justin Medlock to give the Ticats a 3-0 lead with the wind at their backs.
Hamilton added a single on a punt, then on its next possession kept the ball rolling. Collaros first extended the drive on second down with his legs, before on another second-down play escaping the grasp of Bear Woods and finding Bakari Grant for a first down.
A second Montreal offside penalty on the drive moved the chains for the Ticats, as they moved to the Alouettes’ doorstep. But for the second time in the game, a turnover would provide a potential momentum swing.
On a first-down play, Collaros fired for the end zone looking to build on the Ticats’ lead, but was picked off by Als’ special teams ace Dominique Ellis. The game’s second turnover put a sudden end to an 11-play drive that took 6:34 off the clock, giving the Alouettes possession early in the second quarter.
After the teams exchanged punts, however, the Alouettes turned the momentum right back over, along with the football. Crompton threw a backwards pass that slipped through the fingers of running back Chris Rainey, and there to recover it in the end zone was Brandon Stewart for his second defensive touchdown in as many games.
That extended Hamilton’s lead to 11-0 in the second quarter, much to the delight of an amped-up sold out Ticats home crowd.
The Alouettes appeared set to punt right back to Hamilton, but Crompton delivered in the face of pressure on a deep ball to Green, who made a diving catch to give the Als a first down in Ticats’ territory. Montreal added another first down, but settled for three on the drive – although the big play seemed to spark the Alouettes.
They’d add one more field goal before halftime, cutting the deficit to a more manageable 11-6 at the 30-minute mark.
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With the wind at their backs in the third, the Alouettes continued their offensive struggles. Then, the issues were compounded on a special teams play, when the Ticats lined up onside for a punt and recovered the ball in Montreal territory.
The Ticats added a field goal on the Montreal miscue, extending their lead to 14-6.
Ahead eight points, Hamilton’s defence continued to lock down the Als’ offence. After Crompton narrowly missed an open Green down the sideline on an overthrow, the Ticats took advantage on offence.
Collaros led a drive down the field with his legs, before finishing off a methodical scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Banks. The Ticats’ first offensive touchdown of the game put them ahead 21-6, providing a 15-point edge in the fourth quarter.
Two for Stew
Brandon Stewart recovered a fumble in the Alouettes’ end zone in the second quarter, extending the Ticats’ lead on his second touchdown in as many games.
But with time running out on both the Alouettes’ first-place hopes and the Argos’ playoff hopes, another turnover provided a potential turning point. Collaros couldn’t handle the snap and put the ball on the ground, and the Als recovered to take over possession on the Hamilton side of midfield.
After first-down completions to Brandon London and Green, though, the Alouettes had to settle for a Sean Whyte field goal, cutting the deficit to 21-9 with seven minutes remaining in the football game.
The decision to go for the field goal may have cost the Alouettes, however, as on the next drive, the Ticats’ offence came storming right back against a very tough-to-beat Montreal defence. Banks got the drive in motion, taking a pass on second-down to the outside and getting the corner for a big gain into Hamilton territory.
A catch by Tasker moved the chains again, leading to a downhill run by Grigsby for the touchdown to extend the Ticats’ lead to 28-9.
Down to their last bit of life in the game, the Alouettes couldn’t battle back soon enough. They’d add a late touchdown, but it wasn’t enough, falling 29-15 to the Ticats and squandering their opportunity to win the division despite falling down 1-7 to start the season.
The Alouettes will be in action on Nov. 16, as they play in the Eastern Semi-Final against either the BC Lions or Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Ticats, meanwhile, get the coveted bye week, before battling on Nov. 23 in the Eastern Final for the chance to advance to the 102 Grey Cup Championship.