HAMILTON — Just moments before kickoff of the Eastern Semi-Final at Tim Hortons Field, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were faced with a last-minute roster change.
Defensive back Jumal Rolle suffered an ankle injury during the pre-game warmup, he had cut that required stitches, and Richard Leonard had to move to Rolle’s cornerback spot.
“It was definitely different,” said Leonard, who was listed behind Josh Johnson at halfback on the team’s depth chart. “I came in not thinking that I’m going to (play) but something happened so (it’s) next man up. I was just happy to be out there and have fun with my teammates.”
Leonard finished the Tiger-Cats’ Semi-Final win over the BC Lions with four defensive tackles. Even though his interception in the third quarter was called off, it had an impact on his team extending their lead. Just a few plays after the pick was called back for defensive pass interference, running back Tyrell Sutton fumbled a direct snap on Hamilton’s one-yard line. Simoni Lawrence recovered the fumble and returned it 92 yards to set up a Dane Evans quarterback sneak, giving the Ticats a 44-3 lead.
“He had a huge interception and had great coverage all day,” said CFL.ca’s Davis Sanchez. “You could see his confidence build every series out there and now the Tiger-Cats will have a decision to make as Rolle is expected to be back.”
Leonard followed up his stellar rookie campaign with a 51-defensive tackle performance in the 13 games he suited up in this season. Rolle, meanwhile, played in 17 games and collected 43 tackles and two interceptions in his first season in the CFL.
“It felt great,” Leonard said when asked about having an impact against the Lions. “I had ups and downs (this season) and that’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s just how you go by it. Just keep fighting and everything will happen your way.”
Leonard and Lawrence weren’t the only Tabbies making plays on the defensive side of the ball. Frankie Williams scored a pick-six and tallied five defensive tackles while Larry Dean amassed a team-high six defensive tackles. Four different Ticats recorded a sack – Ted Laurent, Don Unamba, Nikita Whitlock and Jason Neill all got to the quarterback on Sunday afternoon. As a unit they also held the Lions to just eight points, all of which were scored in the fourth quarter.
Leonard and the rest of the Tiger-Cats will prepare for the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the Eastern Final next weekend at TD Place in Ottawa as they eye extending their playoff run to the Grey Cup.
“I’m definitely expected to make big plays,” Leonard said. “That’s why they have me out there, to make big plays. We’ve got Ottawa next so hopefully I make a big play for us to go to the Grey Cup.”
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