It sounds simple, but ...

If the Eskimos are to be victorious, they'll require a better performance from QB Jason Maas....

If the Eskimos are to be victorious, they'll require a better performance from QB Jason Maas. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

HAMILTON -- You know the scenario for the Eskimos. They're the defending Grey Cup champions, have a 32-season streak of making the playoffs and a record of providing Edmonton fans with home playoff games on a regular basis.

Everything to lose.

It's different for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They were 1-17 last year. They have no chance of having a home playoff game. Whatever they do is bonus, and it's been that way since they shocked the CFL by winning their first three games of the season.

A SCARY GAME

That's what makes this game so scary.

This isn't even the big game for the Tiger-Cats. That's the next one.

"This is a win we'd like to have," said coach Greg Marshall. "The next one, against Winnipeg, is the game we have to have. It's a four-point game. Certainly it's the Winnipeg game which is most important. But if we defeat Edmonton (tonight), with the games the Eskimos have remaining to play, then we can can catch them."

Marshall figures his team needs to win three of five to secure a playoff position.

"Beat Edmonton and forget about the others," said Marshall of what this one would do. "Beat Edmonton and we're in good shape."

If the Eskimos lose this one ...

That'd be three in a row. Montreal is next and the Alouettes have only lost one all year. Then it's into Taylor Field, which is a tough enough place to win without the Roughriders fighting for their playoff lives. And then they play Winnipeg in the final regular-season game.

You don't want to lose this one.

DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT

You don't even want to think about it, says coach Tom Higgins.

"Our biggest challenge is to prevent our players from trying too hard. If you look at the big picture ... if you start to press, you don't perform.

"The biggest challenge is to play this game in a relaxed state, to play this game with confidence. Fly to Toronto. Bus to Hamilton. Play the game. Then worry about the next step."

It sounds simple, but it's that time of season when everybody in the playoff hunt is looking at the standings and the schedule.

The 5-7-1 Tiger-Cats are coming off a bye week and a challenge from Marshall after a 32-30 loss to Saskatchewan here, following a 30-30 Labour Day draw against Toronto.

"We had a few days off to decide what we're going to be," he said. "Are we going to be a playoff team or just a middle-of-the-road team?"

For Hamilton the rest of the season is about securing third in the East and finishing one point ahead of at least one of the three West teams battling for the final two playoff positions - Edmonton, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan - to prevent the fourth-place Western team crossing over and playing the Toronto Argos in the East semifinal.

Right now they're a point behind Winnipeg and Saskatchewan and three back of the Eskimos. But the Ticats have a game in hand on all three teams and two of their remaining games are against free-falling Ottawa.

IT'S HOME AGAIN

Home field is a factor here, not in the usual sense, but because Hamilton has taken to this team for the first time since back before Harold Ballard took over as owner. They've filled Ivor Wynne Stadium and will again tonight. This is a team which very much wants to pay off the fans here for making it fun to be a Tiger-Cat again.

"The support has been great, especially after last year," said quarterback Danny McManus. "It's night and day in every way.

"This year it's all about football. Last year we were worried about other stuff," he said of little things like getting a paycheque.

"It would just be great to get these fans into the second season," said McManus, pointing out that a home playoff game is gone, but the average Tiger-Cat fan would settle for the next best thing, a chance to beat the Argos in a playoff game in SkyDome.

TIME TO BE SELFISH

This team wants to do this for selfish reasons, too.

"It's been awesome here this year," said Joe Montford. "But as much as we'd like to pay these people off with a playoff game, it's about ourselves, too. Coming off a season like we had last year, we want to keep the mood and attitude around this team the way it's been."

New owner Bob Young e-mailed all the coaches after the two-point loss to Saskatchewan, congratulating them on the game.

"You don't expect that after a loss," said Marshall.

Imagine the e-mail if they win this one.


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