HAMILTON — The league’s top-ranked offence stole the show once again, as Dane Evans and the receiving duo of Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a 36-16 home win against the Edmonton Eskimos in the Eastern Final on Sunday.
The newly crowned East Division Champions concluded a perfect season at home to book their spot in the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
Evans won his first CFL playoff start and threw for 386 yards and a touchdown while completing 21 of 36 passes. The 25-year-old quarterback showed no signs of nerves or hesitation as he continually fired the ball deep with accurate shots down the field to his dynamic receivers.
Banks finished the game with 100 receiving yards on four catches, including a pair of highlight-reel grabs. Banks’ 47-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter gave Hamilton a two-possession lead and was easily the most jaw-dropping play of the game.
“Big time players make big plays,” head coach Orlondo Steinauer said after the game. “Speedy had a tremendous catch. I think what’s underestimated is that was looking directly into the sun.
“If you’re going to try and win a championship, you have to make championship plays.”
The 31-year-old MOP candidate continues to assert himself into the conversation for best player in the league, regardless of position. But Banks quickly gave the credit to his quarterback after the game.
“Dane made a hell of a play and a hell of a throw for him to escape the rush and put the ball where he put the ball,” Banks said of his 47-yard catch. “I just stayed focused on the ball once I saw it in the air and obviously came up with a great catch.”
“When you’re a legend, when you’re a big time player like that, in these games somehow the ball just finds a way to get to you and you find a way to make fantastic plays,” Evans said of Banks. “And I’m just trying to feed him.”
Banks made another phenomenal diving catch for 26 yards with under 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, setting the Ticats’ offence up inside the Edmonton 10-yard line. The ensuing rushing touchdown from David Watford made it a three-possession game and helped seal the victory.
Evans has continued to take major steps forward as a passer since taking over under centre after a season-ending injury to Jeremiah Masoli. The young quarterback said he was confident heading into Sunday’s pivotal game.
“I knew this team would be in this position, and I knew we’d be going to Calgary,” Evans said. “And I knew I wanted to be a part of it, that’s why I resigned in the off-season as a backup.”
Addison led all receivers with a game-high 130 receiving yards on seven catches, and his 48-yard grab in the first quarter was the longest offensive play of the game.
The combined threat of Banks and Addison has presented an incredibly difficult challenge for opposing secondaries, one that has almost always made the difference. The two receivers combined for a staggering 2,786 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches during the regular season. Nothing could slow down Hamilton’s aerial assault this year, and it was the same story against the Esks on Sunday.
“My goal is just to get to the Grey Cup with an opportunity to win,” Banks said.
While losing Masoli early was a major obstacle, Steinauer said he is not surprised at how much his young quarterback accomplished this season.
“Dane is a winner,” Steinauer said. “His preparation is always meticulous, things that nobody would know as backup. He prepared like he was starting while also being Jeremiah’s number one supporter. So am I surprised at Dane winning this amount of football games? Not at all.”
Defence also played a major role in sending Hamilton to the Grey Cup, including a pair of early turnovers that led to a 10-0 lead. Hamilton finished with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and three sacks.
“Momentum was big in this game early,” Steinauer said. “We were able to get the ball defensively. I think we got some short porches where the offence didn’t feel pressure to sustain long drives, even if they didn’t all end in touchdowns.”
But the offence did leave points on the field, as Lirim Hajrullahu came through with four field goals, including a 48-yard kick that gave the Ticats their first lead. Evans said he is excited to build on the offensive success in the final game and correct the mistakes from Sunday.
“We for sure did not play our best offensively, and I’m glad we didn’t because now we have some things to work on when we go to Calgary,” Evans said.