Ticats, Als crawling into playoffs

Brian Bratton drops the ball in front of Carlos Thomas in the second half of action between the...

Brian Bratton drops the ball in front of Carlos Thomas in the second half of action between the Hamilton Ticats and the Montreal Alouettes at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton on July 29, 2011. (QMI Agency)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:34 AM ET

With the East so wide open and no team heading into the post-season with any momentum, the road to the Grey Cup is suddenly a crapshoot.

The margin for error is so slim, that even the Argos would have had a realistic chance of playing for a championship if they somehow had managed to find some offence in any of their losses.

Consider the plight of the first-place Blue Bombers, who have gone from Swaggerville after jumping out to a 7-1 start, to Staggerville in finishing with a 10-8 record and two consecutive losses to end the season.

The Montreal Alouettes, two-time defending Grey Cup titlists, are champions in name only and looked completely disjointed in Saturday night’s 43-1 beatdown at B.C., their third successive loss to end the regular schedule.

And then there are the Ticats, a team that had nothing to play for in the season’s final three games when they demolished the Lions, but then lost to Saskatchewan and the Argos in back-to-back road setbacks during which only one offensive touchdown was produced.

However, if ever an opportunity exists, this is the time for the Tiger-Cats to capture the moment. As it stands, Hamilton, despite its offensive challenges in the two season-ending games, have just as good a shot of advancing as Montreal or Winnipeg. Combined, the three teams went 0-7 to end the year.

But this is the post-season, a new beginning where each team is 0-0, which makes this playoff run all the more open.

When the Ticats gather Monday for a brief session, the message head coach Marcel Bellefeuille imparts will be similar in nature to the words he expressed in the previous two years when they were preparing to play host to the East semifinal.

“We’re not unlike the six teams in the playoffs in that we’re good enough and we’ve shown in stretches during the season that we can win this thing,’’ he said. “Every year it gets said, but more than any other year, it’s true.”

Equally true is how no quarterback in the East has shown any consistency heading into the post-season.

When last seen, Anthony Calvillo was being pulled late in the third quarter of the blowout loss to the surging Lions.

“We were completely dominated,” Als head coach Marc Trestman said in the stunning aftermath. “We played a team that came in with a sense of urgency. They played fast, they made plays and, collectively, we didn’t show up as a football team.”

Calvillo, who has looked ordinary in Montreal’s three-game losing streak, was just as honest in his assessment.

“We’ve had three opportunities in the last three weeks (to claim first place in the East),’’ he said. “(Saturday night) we didn’t give ourselves a chance at all. It was embarrassing.”

BLIND-SIDE BATTLE LOOMING

In the game within the game, the matchup pitting Tiger-Cats rush end Justin Hickman against left tackle Jeff Perrett of the Alouettes will be critical in Sunday’s Eastern semifinal.

Hickman, who began the year with a banged-up back, ended his third season as a Ticat with 13 QB sacks, tied for the league high.

Perrett normally lines up at right tackle, but an injury to Josh Bourke now means Perrett is asked to protect Anthony Calvillo’s blind side.

With the game to be played in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, weather, for obvious reasons, will not be a factor, meaning the team that plays fast and plays with poise will win.

The Ticats defence is more than capable of applying pressure in the backfield with Hickman looming as a major weapon.

“There’s a heightened sense of urgency,’’ Hickman said. “We’re going into the playoffs on a low point. If losing doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will.”

The same applies to the Als, whose offence produced only eight first downs and 146 yards in Saturday night’s 43-1 pasting by the Lions.

SEASON

RECAP

The Tiger-Cats and Alouettes split their four-game series with each team winning twice at home. Here’s a look back at the four meetings:

July 29 at Hamilton

Ticats 34, Als 26

Key Stat: Ticats were a plus-1 in giveaway/takeaway ratio; recorded three sacks while yielding none.

Key Player: SB Dave Stala hauled in five passes for 107 yards and two TDs.

Sept. 5 at Hamilton

Ticats 44, Als 21

Key Stat: Ticats totalled 31 rushing attempts and only 21 passes in staying on the field for 31:10.

Key Player: RB Avon Cobourne rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries and scored two TDs.

Sept. 11 at Montreal

Als 43, Ticats 13

Key Stat: Als dominated time of possession, producing 34 first downs while having the football for 38:08.

Key Player: QB Anthony Calvillo completed 31 of 45 passes for 421 yards, four TDs and zero picks.

Oct. 16 at Montreal

Als 27, Ticats 25

Key Stat: In a close game, 11 Hamilton penalties were far too many; Als had only six, helping to overcome a minus-1 takeaway/giveaway.

Key Player: Calvillo threw for 341 yars, one TD and didn’t have a single interception.

 


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