TICATS, LIONS CLAW FOR CANADA DAY VICTORY AT TIM HORTONS FIELD
Ask anyone in the Hamilton area what they have planned for Canada Day and you’ll probably get the same answer – going to the Tiger-Cats’ home opener.
Tim Hortons Field is typically a nightmare for the opposition. The stadium is always packed with loud, proud fans showing their support for their favourite tabbies. Despite having one of the louder stadiums in the league, Hamilton’s head coach Kent Austin doesn’t think that it’s only the fan support gives a team home field advantage.
“Obviously we know that the crowd’s going to be behind us,” Austin told Ticats.ca. “It’s going to be a packed stadium, they’re going to be loud, (we know) those things are consistent. That doesn’t overcome poor play. If we play well in a tough environment for the other team then you have an advantage.”
The Ticats hope to carry the momentum from their impressive 42-20 victory over the Toronto Argonauts last week at BMO Field into Week 2 against the BC Lions in the first half of a CFL Friday night double header.
The defence, led by Week 1’s Shaw CFL Top Performer Simoni Lawrence, wowed in the season opener in taking down Argos’ pivot Ricky Ray five times and Argos pivots six times in total. Lawrence collected seven tackles – including two of the six sacks – a fumble recovery, an interception and a touchdown.
“I have to pass all the credit to my teammates, of course,” said the linebacker. “In a team game like this it’s so hard to take individual awards because you know you’re depending on 11 other guys to do their jobs so you can be successful. I feel like our defence did a great job and we got this team award.”
Lawrence and the rest of his defenders will tackle a BC Lions offence that just doesn’t quit. The Lions fought hard in Week 1 to come from behind to defeat Calgary 20-18 after trailing 17-6 heading into the final play of the third quarter.
“They’re a very good team,” said Lawrence. “They know it’s our home opener and they know we’re going to be very hyped up so they’re going to come in and try to ruin our party like we did Toronto’s.”
Bryan Burnham will also be looking to make an impact after he led the Lions receivers with 88 yards on five catches, one of eight different targets for quarterback Jonathan Jennings last week. Shawn Gore had seven receptions for 67 yards and Emmanuel Arceneaux grabbed four receptions for 39 yards. Jennings ending with 24 of 42 completions for 248 and no interceptions.One of the biggest challenges for Hamilton will be containing Lions running back Chris Rainey, who had quite the game against Calgary. Rainey scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 73-yard punt return in the fourth quarter to help ensure his team a 1-0 record.
Scoring early and often will be on the forefront of the Lions’ game plan come Friday night, but most of all they’ll want to get off to a better start than they had in their home-opener against the Stampeders. Jennings and company were stymied by Calgary’s defence throughout a large chunk of the game, scoring only three points in the first half and 13 offensively all game.
And while special teams won the game in the end for the Lions, they nearly coughed it up in the first half when Richie Leone had three of his punts blocked. In their first road test of the season, the Lions will have to avoid big negative plays like that but also put points on the board to keep the Ticats’ home crowd at bay.
“Every drive you want to go out there and score,” said Gore. “We want to come out there first play and make an impact. We started out a little sluggish last week and we’re not looking to repeat that.”
Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood returns to Hamilton’s lineup after being sidelined from an injury during the pre-season. Underwood, in his second season in the black and gold, will be another option for Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to throw to when they hit the field.
“Whenever you’re playing and you have a chance to be up or start, you’re going to be excited about it,” Underwood said. “I’ve just got to put my best foot forward and help the team get a win on Friday.”
Masoli was striking in his season debut against the Argos, throwing for 318 yards on 27-of-37 passing. He also made 15 straight completions in the second half going 15-for-15 to four different receivers, Chad Owens, Luke Tasker, Andy Fantuz and Brandon Banks.
“Right now Masoli is playing well,” Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Mark Washington told BCLions.com. “He’s controlling the offence, he has good mastery of the offence and they’re showing a lot.
“The receivers (including) Owens are really playing hard for those guys. (C.J.) Gable is a great running back so we’re going to have our hands full. I’m sure our guys will be up for the challenge.”
Friday night will also be the fans in the Hammer’s first look at Owens, who nabbed his first touchdown in the black and gold against his former team last week.
As for the questions surrounding whether or not Brett Maher would be a good enough replacement for the CFL’s most accurate kicker Justin Medlock, who was signed by Winnipeg on the first day of free agency, Maher silenced them all in Week 1.
In his Ticat debut, Maher went 4-for-4 on his field goal attempts including a 50-yard kick, the first 50-plus yard field goal of his CFL career.
BC’s bench boss, and the CFL’s winningest active coach, Wally Buono is fully aware of the atmosphere of the enemy territory he and his lions will be prancing into and it doesn’t faze him one bit.
“It is a hostile environment, that’s what’s going to make the win hopefully that much sweeter.”