HAMILTON - The Ticats have got the B.C. Lions right where they want them.
Yep, the Ticats are without the steadying influences of tackle machine Jamall Johnson and fellow linebacker Markeith Knowlton.
Their offensive line has bigger holes than the Titanic.
They are coming off a futile effort against the Eskimos; losing a game to a vulnerable team as wounded as themselves.
And, they are playing against a quarterback who has thrown TD passes in 25 consecutive games and leads the CFL’s top-rated offence against their own leak-prone secondary.
With all of that going against them the Ticats can’t lose. Or, at least that’s what the beleagured Tabbies are trying to convince themselves of this week as they attempt to revive their flagging playoff hopes.
About the only thing going Hamilton’s way is that while they have lost the games they were supposed to win this season, they have also won games in which they were decided underdogs.
Twice they beat the Alouettes. They won out over the Roughriders early in the season and, in a loss to B.C. they did manage to score 36 points. They will have to find some of that pixie dust again Friday at Ivor Wynne.
“How come we come out and play like barnstormers one game, and the next we don’t have the same intensity? It’s baffling with all the talent we have but we’re a very young team and that’s led to a lot of our inconsistencies,” said quarterback Henry Burris, who himself has been guilty of uneven performances. “If you look at our roster half the guys are new to this organization this year. And probably even new to the league. That’s where we’ve kind of had to bite the bullet. But this is not over. There is still a chance to do some really good things.”
To do “good things” it will be paramount to win their remaining games, or hope the Eskimos lose at least one more than they do. If Edmonton finishes with a better record they’ll cross over from the west division and steal the Ticats’ playoff dreams.
“Right now it is do or die,” Burris said, “but what better way to get momentum back than to beat a great B.C. team.”
They will have to do it with an offensive line that includes first-year starters Cody Husband, Marc Dile and Pascal Baillargeon, who gets his first CFL start in a game in which the Ticats’ can’t afford any mistakes.
“No pressure,” said the Laval product. “I’ve been practicing to start all season.”
It’s not as if Baillargeon hasn’t been in similar spots.
“He’s been in enough big games at Laval, plus he’s had some plays here (as a backup) already. He knows what he’s doing. He asks the right questions. He is big and strong and as long as he maintains his technique he’ll be fine,” Husband said.
Practice though is not the same as staring into the grillwork of guys like Jabar Westerman, Keron Williams, Anthony Reddick or Adam Bighill. That can’t be anything less than imposing for a Hamilton lineup that is a jumble. Sophomore Brian Simmons is at left tackle with the only veteran being Tim O’Neill — and he’s had to shift from guard to centre to replace the injured Marwan Hage. Plus, Husband is moving from right guard to fill the injured Pete Dyakowski’s spot on the left because Baillargeon, said head coach George Cortez, is more comfortable on the right side.
“I can play anywhere,” Baillargeon said. “At Laval I played right tackle, right guard, left guard. But I hurt my left knee (when still playing at Laval) and I don’t think it’s strong enough to take a hard hit on the left side yet. When you’re playing on the left side that’s the one that takes the most impact, so right now I prefer the right side.”
Either way, he’s going to have to find a way to keep B.C.’s swarming defence from Burris.
So far, despite upheavels, Hamilton’s offence has been its lifeline, scoring 30 or more points in eight games. It’s 383.4 yards per game ranks third in the CFL. But they have allowed 30 sacks, putting them closer to the bottom of the league, compared to B.C.’s top-rated O-line which has given up just 14. So there have been gaps in protection, and now there is even more inexperience along Hamilton’s front line. It could become the Achilles heel in this game against a Lions’ defence that has 31 sacks. Only Montreal and Winnipeg have more, with 32.
“On the line nobody notices you until you give up the sack, and then your face is up there for everyone to look at you,” said Husband, of the latest game of musical chairs. “We’ve been able to move the ball no matter (who has been sidelined). Our offence has stayed pretty much the same.”
With Lulay tearing apart defences coast to coast it’s likely Burris’ young guns will have to come up with another 30-plus point effort for Hamilton to have any chance of winning.
Kevin Eiben gets the start at linebacker, where the Ticats are expected to be without Knowlton and Johnson. Playing beside him will be Brock Campbell. Another rookie.
“There’s not many veterans on this team. Young blood. But there is a lot of talent,” Eiben said, “and once we get these guys up to speed on what it means to be professional athletes and what it takes to win in the CFL we’re going to be a powerhouse team. And we’re very close.”
For the Ticats “very close” has to start Friday. Anything later, and it’s: Wait Until Next Year. Again.
Bizarre banner night for Cobourne
Avon Cobourne glanced self-consciously up at the Hamilton Ticats’ Wall of Fame Thursday and didn’t know whether to be honoured, indignant, or irritated.
So he just looked embarrassed.
Someone had scaled the roof of Ivor Wynne during the night and tacked a banner reading: “Avon Cobourne” beside the No. 22 or former star Don Sutherin.
“To me it’s kind of disrespectful,” Cobourne said after the Ticats walk-through for Friday’s game against B.C. “I don’t know who the guy was that did it. I appreciate the fans doing that. But that guy (Sutherin) worked hard to get his name up there. It’s kind of disrespectful. At the same time I appreciate the love.”
Cobourne’s teammates disavowed any knowledge of the prank. But it smacked of an inside job — someone with knowledge of Ivor Wynne’s infrastructure. Either that or folks in Hamilton are used to seeing folks take their dog for a walk along Balsam St. carrying step ladders and climbing harnesses.
“I don’t know who it was. Honest,” Cobourne said. “Obviously somebody likes me to put my name all the way up there. I appreciate the gesture ... the work he put in to do that. It’s disrespectful but an honour that they take the time to do that.”