Ticats big-game hunting

Rey Williams (left) and Brandon Denson celebrate a touchdown against the Lions at Ivor Wynne...

Rey Williams (left) and Brandon Denson celebrate a touchdown against the Lions at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., late last season. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency file photo)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:17 AM ET

HAMILTON - There is no rhyme, no reason, no discernible evidence to explain how the Ticats have had B.C.’s number in the past few seasons.

For Rey Williams, who has never lost to B.C. during his three-year run in Tiger Town, it reminds the tough-as-nails linebacker of Hamilton’s plight against Winnipeg a year ago when the Ticats had no answer in getting swept by the Blue Bombers, including a matchup in the East final.

Naturally, there’s a long way to go before any talk of appearing in a final is uttered, but for Williams and his Ticats this Friday night’s late-night tussle in Vancouver is as big as it gets, one of those push-back evenings after Hamilton got pasted on its home turf by Saskatchewan in last week’s season opener.

Against the Bombers, Winnipeg’s ability to force turnover was one of the main issues that would surface in a season-long struggle that featured heartache and frustration for the Ticats.

Against a Lions team, it was a combination of Kevin Glenn getting hot at the quarterback position and Avon Cobourne chewing up B.C.’s defence along the ground when Hamilton visited Vancouver.

When the Lions played in Hamilton late in the season, the Ticats would end a B.C. eight-game win streak by imposing their will on both sides of scrimmage and on special teams.

Glenn is now backing up Drew Tate in Calgary, Cobourne is backing up Chevon Walker in Hamilton’s backfield, while Justin Medlock is about to get his kicks down south with the NFL.

“A new year, new start,” said Williams, who clearly did not want to jinx himself when Hamilton’s record versus B.C. was broached. “I guess some teams you just match up better than others.

“I mean, we couldn’t beat Winnipeg last year and for some reason it was rough against them. At the same time we had B.C.’s number.”

Regardless of past performance, the number that should worry fans of the Tabbies is 43, the number of points Saskatchewan produced against a revamped Hamilton defence many thought would bring pressure and make plays by flying to the football.

“The sense of urgency this week has been there,’’ continued Williams, a stalwart at middle linebacker. “In meetings, everyone’s talking more, everyone knows we’ve got to get this pointed in the right direction and we plan on it.”

Whether it was scheming, unfamiliarity among personnel, something was clearly amiss from a Hamilton defence that never seemed to adjust to what the Roughriders were exploiting.

“The trust level between coaches and players is a process and we’re growing,’’ added Williams. “You can tell we’re getting more comfortable with each other.”

If last week’s effort is to be viewed as an aberration then an improved performance is essential against the defending Grey Cup champions, who opened defence of their title by beating up on Winnipeg in a rematch of last year’s championship game.

Changes to Hamilton’s defence were inevitable, but unlike last year’s roller coaster of a ride the changes will not be widespread.

Even in good times, Tiger Town would witness its share of players going from starters to backups, players getting added to the practice roster or in some cases being outright released.

One expected change for this week’s kickoff will see Markeith Knowlton return to his starting linebacker spot, a move that will cause the Ticats to shuffle their ratio.

By moving Knowlton back to starting linebacker, ex-Argo and B.C. native Kevin Eiben will now dress as backup.

“It’s a long season,’’ cautioned Williams. “We’ve only played one game and there’s no need to panic.

“Even when we played well last year they (coaches and management) started shuffling people around. As a group it’s important to get some kind of (personnel) consistency that allows a team to jell.”

And in pro sports, nothing brings teams closer than a win.

LULAY ONE TOUGH DUDE

It comes as no secret that Travis Lulay finds himself in Hamilton’s crosshairs, an elite quarterback who took a licking in last week’s win over Winnipeg.

Toughness has never been an issue with B.C.’s starting quarterback, a guy who helped the Lions escape from last year’s 0-5 start en route to a title, earning most outstanding player award honours for the regular season and Grey Cup.

“He took an enormous amount of hits,’’ Hamilton head coach George Cortez said of last week’s B.C. win. “And he was still playing at the end.

“He got hit a lot last game and I’m sure they (Lions) noticed.”

For obvious reasons, the key in beating B.C., a team many feel is even better than last year’s group, is to get to Lulay.

“He’s tough and he’ll move around,’’ Ticats linebacker Rey Williams said of Lulay. “We do got to get to him and get that ball out of his hands.

“He’s dangerous when he can extend plays with his legs.”

Williams led his team with nine tackles in last Friday’s season-opening loss to Saskatchewan at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

He also recorded Hamilton’s lone sack and will once again loom big in getting to Lulay

“He’s the key to that offence,’’ added Williams. “He’s a smart quarterback who’ll nickel and dime you and then throw the long ball.”

NUMBERS GAME FOR AUSSIE

The CFL has often been referred to as a numbers game, a league that demands its teams to balance rosters with imports and non-imports.

In the case of first-year Ticat punter Josh Bartel, it literally has become a numbers game for the affable Aussie who qualifies as a non-import.

“A few of the boys said 76 was a terrible number for a punter,’’ said Bartel. “Back home, 44 is a bit of a family number.”

With that in mind, Bartel changed his jersey number to 44 for last week’s season opener, a number he now embraces.

Back home, Bartel’s younger brother Jason is an aspiring athlete.


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