Ticats feeling confident

Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Renauld Williams (left) and Brandon Denson, celebrating a touchdown against...

Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Renauld Williams (left) and Brandon Denson, celebrating a touchdown against the B.C. Lions last month, will be aiming to do more of the same against the Alouettes during the East semifinal in Montreal on Sunday. (Dave Abel, QMI Agency files)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

TORONTO - For what it’s worth, and at this stage of the game it bears monitoring, the pulse of the Ticats appears to be where it’s required when so much is as it stake.

For Rey Williams, whatever doubt he may have had was eliminated during the team’s short bus ride to Stoney Creek on Friday, a day when the threat of inclement weather forced the Ticats to an indoor facility, symbolically named Player’s Paradise.

No one knows which Ticats team will show up for Sunday’s matinee against the host Als in the East semifinal, but the tone during practices and the mindset among his teammates has convinced Williams that Hamilton will be prepared, both physically and mentally for Montreal.

“You can tell, even during the bus ride, that the guys aren’t tight,’’ Williams said. “The guys are relatively loose and we’ve been dialing in as a team, especially on defence.

“We’ve been focused and locked in. It’s go hard or go home.”

Go hard or go home must be the mantra the Ticats embrace the moment they step on to the field at Olympic Stadium, where it’s essential they leave everything out on the turf.

For the past two weeks, the Ticats have had nothing to play for, have had the luxury of resting some ailing bodies and showing their playoff opponent nothing in the way of strategy at a time when Hamilton knew it would be playing on the road.

Outside of a couple of offensive plays during Friday’s practice that led to incomplete passes, the pace and focus have been very good.

How that translates into Sunday no one knows, but Williams does know his team will be ready.

“Guys know what’s at stake,’’ Williams, who sat out last week’s season-finale loss in Toronto. “It’s the biggest game of the year up to date.”

Clearly, the Ticats are going to have to rely on their defence to set the tone against the Als, whose offence, despite some season-ending poor stretches, is the key to Montreal’s success.

What Hamilton wants to do is play fast and physical on defence, apply pressure and get Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo out of rhythm.

“The one thing about Calvillo is that he can’t do it by himself,’’ Williams said of the East’s nominee for the league’s most outstanding player. “They got good receivers, a good running back in (Brandon) Whitaker.

“We know what we got and what we need to do to stop them. We’re not afraid of Montreal. To us, they’re just another team.”

In reality, it’s a team Hamilton matches up quite well given the Ticats strength is on defence, a unit that is more than capable of producing touchdowns based on how aggressive they’re asked to play.

Ultimately, it’ll come down to turnovers, an area Hamilton’s offence must simply limit.

While Hamilton has not won in Montreal since 2002 and not captured a post-season win since 2001, there’s no sense of awe in playing the Als, the CFL’s two-time defending champs who escaped with a two-point win the last time these two teams met last month at McGill.

“They know us, we know them,’’ Ticats quarterback Kevin Glenn said. “It’s time to play football.”

Sunday marks a franchise moment for the Ticats, a team that alternated from good to bad the last three years, unable to breakthrough in dropping the last two semifinals, both at home.

For Glenn, it’s virtually certain he’ll be asked to move on if the Ticats aren’t able to advance to next weekend’s East final in Winnipeg.

But Glenn won’t be alone as changes are inevitable in the off-season, departures that could be felt in virtually every area of the team’s football operations.

That, in a nutshell, is what’s on the line for the Ticats.

In the same vein, one can also make the case for the Als, who dropped the season’s final three games.

A fourth all but guarantees a changing of the guard and the end of a dynasty.

Following their final practice, Glenn described the mood as exciting.

“We’re one of six teams playing for the Grey Cup,’’ Glenn said of the eight-team CFL where going from last to first is not as difficult as many believe. “Everyone is relishing the opportunity.

“What better way to start a Grey Cup run than by playing the defending champs in their own house.”

On the mend

By the time the Ticats board their Montreal-bound flight Saturday morning, the status of Jamall Johnson should be made much clearer.

While the all-star linebacker practised for the third time in as many days on Friday, Johnson had yet to be cleared by the team’s medical staff.

“He’s not 100% cleared,’’ head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said. “I hope he plays.”

Whether it’s lower body or upper body, watching Johnson fly around this week certainly gives the impression that he will suit up in Sunday’s East semifinal against the Als.

If Canadian defensive back Ryan Hinds is able to play, that will also help.

When a starting Canadian no longer becomes available, the delicate ratio balance becomes that much more difficult, exposing backups who aren’t necessarily ready for extended reps.

The Ticats drew up three scenarios in the event the ratio had to be altered and practised each one at different times during the week.

Bellefeuille will address his roster Saturday at Olympic Stadium, where the status of both Johnson and Hinds should be clarified.

“It’s a pretty delicate thing,’’ said Bellefeuille. “And we’ve put a lot of time into it.”

 


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