Ticats wary of an upset

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:58 PM ET

HAMILTON — There is a perception that Sunday’s Eastern semifinal against the Toronto Argonauts is pretty much “a gimme” for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“If we play well, we’re confident we can win at home,” said general manager Bob O’Billovich. But guarantees?

No. never. Not this side of Willie Joe Namath, or as O’Billovich noted, with a chuckle, “You’ve got me mixed up with Leo Cahill.”

Leo the Lip was never adverse to predicting great things for his teams a generation ago. And, it’s not that O’Billovich isn’t feeling good about his team’s chances. But as seasons go this has been far from a slam-dunk. They never did challenge Montreal, as expected, for first place, there was a horrible start and the ending hasn’t been all that promising either.

It’s been an Oreo kind of year. You know; yummy in the middle.

There is no denying the Ticats have looked by far the stronger team. They not only swept the three-game season series, they dominated it, out-scoring the Argos 74-28. They have an offence that includes three 1,000-yard receivers, a defence ranked as the stingiest in the league much of the season and a quarterback who threw for more than 5,000 yards.

The Argos have Cleo Lemon and a prayer.

“We’ve been the better of the two teams in the regular season. But in the playoffs anything can happen. One thing you should never do is lose respect for your opponent,” O’Billovich said Monday.

The Ticats have only to look back to last season to see what can happen. They were expected to win then, too, at Ivor Wynne. Instead they lost to a B.C. Lions team. So, coach Marcel Bellefeuille is hammering home the point this week that the Ticats have nothing to get complacent about.

“None of what happened in the past matters now,” said O’Billovich. “Toronto got into position for a playoff game which they haven’t had in a couple of years so they’re going to be as hungry as we are.”

Glenn became just the second Hamilton quarterback (Danny McManus also did it twice) to throw for 5,000 yards. Arland Bruce and Dave Stala both had more than 1,000 yards receiving and Marquay McDaniel fell just two yards short.

But the Ticats don’t really have anything to be smug about. They got nowhere near challenging Montreal as many observers predicted. “We felt at the beginning of the season we could do that,” agreed O’Billovich. Instead, an experiment with an all-Canadian offensive line fizzled and the special teams struggled until Marcus Thigpen breathed life into the return game. Draft pick Justin Palardy didn’t work out. “We thought he would develop into a good player; and he has, but as a field goal kicker for Winnipeg not a punter for Hamilton,” said O’Billovich. “That set us back a bit, probably cost us a couple games early.”

So instead of battling for first place, the Ticats finished with a 9-9 record and losses in their two final regular season games, including a blowout in Calgary and one at home Sunday to B.C. “I’m disappointed we didn’t win our last game. You always want to estabish a positive attitude at home,” said O’Billovich. “But, regardless how we finished the season, we accomplished our goal of getting home field in the playoffs.”

Question is, maybe home field isn’t the big advantage in Hamilton that it used to be: The Ticats are just 5-4 there this year and Toronto actually has a better record on the road (5-4) than at home.

The Argos may have been out-classed on offence by the Ticats. Curiously, when it was all done they still equalled Hamilton’s 9-9 record. It just hasn’t felt like they’re as consistent and deep as the Ticats. “They have a good defence, their offence has been inconsistent, especially in the passing game,” said O’Billovich. “(But) ... we haven’t played as well on defence the past couple games; especially in the secondary. We have to be better ... to be victorious.”

Stop Cory Boyd on the ground and limit Chad Owens on special teams and you stop the Argos. Right? “We’ve been able to control them,” said O’Billovich. “but this is sudden-death. I’ve seen teams rise to the occasion before, been on teams like that ... When you get into the playoffs, it’s not necessarily the team that was the best that succeeds; it’s the team that is playing the best that wins.”


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