Hamilton Tiger-Cats overpower Winnipeg Blue Bombers in critical road win

WINNIPEG – Jeremiah Masoli calmly picked his spots and passed for over 300 yards as Hamilton shocked the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 30-13 in a win that keeps the Tiger-Cats slim playoff hopes alive in the East.

A quick strike for a major on the Ticats first possession, followed by a methodical 8-minute touchdown march in the fourth quarter book-ended a a huge Ticats win that could not be understated.

Brandon Banks got started early with a 60-yard touchdown en route to his second straight 100-yard night. He also had an onside punt recovery that set up a touchdown.

The loss hurt all the more for the Bombers when starting QB Matt Nichols was sent to the sidelines with what appeared to be a right hand injury when the second half began and was replaced by backup Dominique Davis. Nichols was pressured numerous times in the first half and was seen favoring his hand after two separate fumbles where he was hit in the pocket.

Friday’s matchup saw two teams that were coming off opposite ends of close contests in Week 15. The Bombers taking over what was primarily a defensive battle in the fourth quarter in a win over Edmonton, while the Tiger-Cats surrendered a fourth quarter lead to fall just shy of rival Toronto in overtime.

The issues for the Ticats last week versus Toronto was not the start, but the finish and they looked to duplicate out of the gate on the road. Last week, Masoli found Banks for a 58-yard major to start the contest and on the third play from scrimmage in this one, did the same. Banks got in behind the coverage of DB Chris Randell and Masoli dropped a pass right into the hands of the speedy wideout who took it 60-yards for a touchdown.

Banks’ fifth touchdown of the season gave the Ticats an early 7-0 lead. They would add to it on their next series, posting a Sergio Castillo field goal to increase the advantage to 10.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (8) hands off to Alex Green (15) during the first half of CFL action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winnipeg Friday, October 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

With the Bombers looking to answer, the Ticats defense dialed it up with Nichols’ unit already in field goal range. Nichols dropped back to pass on second down and was hit by S Abdul Kanneh. Nichols fumbled the football and DE Adrian Tracey pounced on the loose football to give the Ticats the ball at their own 43 yard line.

Masoli promptly connected with rookie WR Jalen Saunders for an 18 yard gain to set up a Castillo field goal who nailed it from 50 yards out.

As the second quarter began, the Bombers offense finally made their move after a sluggish first frame. Nichols threw a strike to WR Clarence Denmark for a 16-yard gain and then offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice pulled a trick out of the playbook.

One second-and-one, WR Darvin Adams took a direct snap in bunch formation, dropped back to pass and completed a pass to RB Andrew Harris down the seam for a 44-yard gain. Running back Timothy Flanders hauled in the short major to help the Bombers cut the Ticats’ lead to 13-7.

The Tiger-Cats responded with a strong drive on the strength of a pair of Banks first down receptions to set up a 33-yard Castillo boot which restored the two-possession advantage.

Banks was the story of the first half for the ‘Cats posting 104 yards and the aforementioned major before the break.

The Bombers responded with a 48 yard field goal on the ensuing drive before the Ticats were forced to alter their plan due to injury. Hamilton looked to close the half with a 38-yard field goal but Castillo pushed it right and Bombers DB Maurice Leggett took it out of the endzone. In an attempt to tackle, Castillo fell awkwardly and had to be helped off with what appeared to be a right leg injury.

The Ticats were forced to turn to rookie receiver Felix Faubert-Lussier as a result. Although it was his first time in the pros, Faubert-Lussier is no stranger to kicking in relief. Last year he came on to kick field goals from 27 and 34 yards out to help Laval advance to the Vanier Cup.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker Sergio Castillo (41) celebrates his field goal against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Friday, October 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

With Castillo out of the game, the playcalling for June Jones and the Ticats had to adjust and they passed the test on their first series of the second half. With the Ticats on their own side of midfeld and looking to execute a third-and-two Masoli punted the football and Banks pounced on it down the field after lining up onside. The quick kick set the Ticats up at the Bombers’ 17-yard line. Masoli then scrambled to find Andy Fantuz for a 16-yard gain and finished it off by handing the ball to RB Alex Green who opened up a 12-point lead with a 1-yard touchdown.

Green was making his second career start following the trade of CJ Gable earlier in the week. In Green’s lone start two weeks ago, he rushed for 140 yards against the BC Lions.

With the Ticats scoring on their first drive of the half, Davis entered the game under centre with Nichols sidelined and faced a 12-point deficit. The Bombers were able to post a Justin Medlock field goal on their second possession but after that were unable to compete drives despite solid field position.

When the fourth quarter began, the Ticats offence took control, putting together a possession that ate up 8:45 off the clock. the 14-play drive was finished off with a three-yard touchdown pass from Masoli to WR Luke Tasker and set up by a 26-yard burst up the middle by Green along the ground. A successful two-point conversion opened up a 30-13 lead for Hamilton and put them in the driver’s seat.

Along with the composure displayed by Masoli on the road and the contribution of Banks, the Ticats benefited from stellar play from their offensive line who gave their pivot protection all night and allowed Green to navigate his way to the second level on critical second downs.

On the defensive side of the ball, after Nichols was gone, the Hamilton secondary gave little for Davis to find both over the middle and along the boundary.

The Bombers stay at home next week when they welcome the BC Lions to town with questions now surrounding the health of their quarterback. They will likely be routing for the Ticats who will host the only team ahead of Winnipeg in the standings, the Calgary Stampeders.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.