Playoff football presents its own unique challenges in a one-and-done proposition where attention to detail becomes heightened and more pronounced.
More than any player with the Ticats, veteran slotback Dave Stala understands what it takes and what is required at this time of the season.
Strip away matchups, the inevitable need to win the turnover battle and the obvious goal to apply pressure on Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo and provide protection for Ticats quarterback Kevin Glenn and Sunday’s Eastern semifinal in Montreal is reduced to one element.
“We have to start fast,” Stala began on Wednesday in the Hammer, where the atmosphere at practice had a definite feel of post-season football. “Against that team in that environment, we can’t let them get ahead.
“If they do play with a lead, it’ll be a little tougher to play against. It’s difficult, but it’s definitely doable.”
A former Als receiver who now serves as the Ticats’ most experienced and seasoned receiver, Stala knows the pitfalls that await when a team such as Montreal is able to get off to a quick start.
Stala understands how much the crowd suddenly becomes a factor when the homeside is scoring points early or forcing turnovers that allows the offence to play on a shorter field.
Sunday’s meeting will be the sixth of the season for the Als and Ticats, who met once in the pre-season and split their four-game season series with each winning at home.
New wrinkles, on both sides of the ball, will be featured, but neither team is going to change their identity.
For Hamilton, a semblance of a run game must be established on offence.
Defensively, disrupting Calvillo in the pocket is always the key, but containing Brandon Whitaker and Jamel Richardson is equally important.
But how Hamilton starts the game will go a long way in determining how the outcome gets played out.
“We have to shut out those fans early,” Stala added. “I know those fans. I know the way Montreal fans are. I know they’ll start booing that team if they start losing. I know how loud they’ll get if they start winning.
“We have to concentrate on what we do, but if we can get some early points we can make it difficult on them.”
Montreal is a front-running team, a team that likes to play with an early lead and force its opponents to adjust and get out of character when leads are able to get extended.
The Ticats are more than capable of starting quickly, but consistency has been a season-long theme that no one knows which team shows up.
If the team Stala envisions showing up on Sunday actually plays out, the game has the makings of a classic.
The swagger Montreal normally brings into the post-season no longer exists.
In a matchup of many keys, the biggest has to be the way Hamilton begins the game.
The word vulnerable gets tossed around the Als, losers of three straight to end the year that saw Montreal fail to grab hold of first and a bye into the East final.
Calvillo has looked inferior, the low point arriving in the season finale in Vancouver, where the Lions blew out the Als in a 43-1 pasting that saw Calvillo throw for 63 yards before he got pulled late in the third quarter.
In his last five games, Calvillo, who was named the East’s nominee as most outstanding player on Wednesday, tossed four touchdown passes.
“It’s a team we like playing against,” Ticats wideout Chris Williams said. “We’ve played them five times and we match up well against them.”
But so much of what will happen will depend on how well Hamilton begins Sunday’s slugfest.