MONTREAL - Kent Austin wanted to stick to the basics on Thursday night.
And after the first Canadian Football League pre-season game for his Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Austin, the Tabbies’ new general manager and head coach, has a firm idea of how his players were able to grasp the simplest of concepts.
With Argonauts head coach and former Alouettes offensive co-ordinator Scott Milanovich scouting from the Molson Stadium press box, the Ticats, for the most part, didn’t disappoint Austin in a 33-26 victory against the Montreal Alouettes.
“I thought the effort was outstanding, but we have to clean up a lot of things,” Austin said.
“Too many penalties (15 overall), especially on special teams. We have to eliminate those mistakes, and we will.
“We will be better with our assignments next week. We got our first win out of the way, but I’m really pleased with the way the guys played hard.”
Chief among those players were several who are battling to be on the 42-man roster when the Tiger-Cats open the 2013 regular season on June 28 in Toronto against the Argos.
Receiver Chris Williams is sitting at home in a contract snit and not only do the Ticats have to fill the hole his absence creates on offence, but they must find a replacement for him on punt returns. Rookies Lindsey Lamar and Ouslet Volcy both were given an opportunity to shine, and Lamar came out on top, taking a Sean Whyte punt back 88 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
Veteran quarterback Henry Burris had no worries about losing his No. 1 role as he watched from the sideline in civilian clothes, but the Ticats, if one half is a true indicator, have a viable backup in Dan LeFevour. The 26-year-old started and was solid, completing 10-of-19 passes for 149 yards before giving way to Brian Brohm, who came in at the start of the third quarter.
LeFevour not only showed off a strong arm, but the ability to think on his feet and scramble out of trouble. LeFevour, under pressure on one play, hit C.J. Gable on a screen and Gable rumbled for a 37-yard gain.
“There are still some things I can think of off the top of my head we have to get corrected, but we moved the ball almost every possession and got a few first downs,” LeFevour said. “(I have to improve on) some reads, seeing coverage a little quicker and being more decisive with the football. I have to go through my progressions and make the proper reads.”
Gable, trying to take minutes away from Chevon Walker as the starting running back, fumbled early in the third quarter. Walker, meanwhile, helped propel the Ticats to a 23-10 lead at the half with a 25-yard touchdown catch in the final minute.
It wasn’t just with the offence on the field that Austin was able to gain a greater appreciation of his players’ capabilities.
The Ticats defence stymied quarterback Josh Neiswander time and again in the opening 30 minutes, limiting the third-year Alouette to 99 yards passing with eight completions on 23 attempts. Neiswander had trouble finding his targets and twice was intercepted, by cornerback Arthur Hobbs and linebacker Ricardo Colclough. The latter interception led to the touchdown by Walker.
“I was pleased with the defence and the way they pressured the quarterback,” Austin said. “For the most part, our guys need to learn to finish. We dropped a touchdown, overthrew one later in the game.”
Alouettes veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo played just the opening series, and on the first play from scrimmage, the 40-year-old hit an open Jamel Richardson, who turned the catch into a 50-yard gain to the Hamilton 28-yard line.
Four plays later, Chris Jennings ran in from one yard to give the Als a touchdown on their initial possession.
The Alouettes started the fourth quarter with a bang, as former Ticat Quinton Porter found Kenny Stafford for a 75-yard touchdown reception. Porter also connected with Tyron Carrier for a 20-yard major.
The game was delayed 10 minutes in the second quarter when Montreal slotback David Clowney suffered an undisclosed injury and had to be carted off the field.
WHICH CATS WILL SHOW UP?
Henry Burris has been around the Canadian Football League block enough times to know that a previous season’s record doesn’t necessarily carry over.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will try to regain some respect in 2013 after both clubs finished with 6-12 records and spectator status for the playoffs a year ago.
“The two wild cards that people are looking at are us and Winnipeg,” said Burris, who travelled to Montreal for the Ticats’ pre-season game on Thursday night against the Alouettes — but did not play.
“What type of team are we going to respond with after finishing last season at 6-12? We’re working our butts off.”
It won’t be a simple task, with the Argonauts looking to defend their Grey Cup and the Alouettes a threat until the day that quarterback Anthony Calvillo decides he has had enough and retires.
“You never know which team is going to catch fire at the right time,” Burris said.
“You have to put yourself in the right position and give yourself an opportunity to win games. (Toronto and Montreal) have winning traditions and they won’t lose that edge.”