TIGER-CATS FALL IN HOME OPENER

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE MIL­TON The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

Four weeks, plus a day, this city waited to see its Favourite Sons in the flesh, and for a while it was all sweet­ness and light.

Then the dark­ness, the eclipse that has shad­owed this team through­out this young 2017 sea­son, rolled in. With a 41-26 vengeance. When a team is frag­ile — and that’s what the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats are at this junc­ture, al­though most of them deny it — it doesn’t take much to stum­ble from the sun­shine into the shade.

For nearly a half of foot­ball, the Ti­cats stayed with, and ahead of, the B.C. Lions — but then? In an­a­lyt­ics, they call it re­gres­sion to the mean.

So a good start by the Hamil­ton of­fence, which also fin­ished well, the emer­gence of a vi­able run­ning game, some con­crete pres­sure from the de­fen­sive fronts, and a pair of in­ter­cep­tions and a fum­ble re­turn by cor­ner­back Richard Leonard — all in the first half — may have pro­vided en­cour­age­ment to those in uni­form. But to the rest of us, turned out to be mere teases.

A glimpse of what could be, but which def­i­nitely is not and may never be.

Once Travis Lu­lay got his feet un­der him, af­ter re­plac­ing start­ing B.C. quar­ter­back Jonathon Jen­nings — who was in­ter­cepted and hurt on his first play from scrim­mage — the Ti­cats de­fence, es­pe­cially the back six, were benev­o­lent hosts. They did make three picks, but were far more of­ten picked on.

Head coach Kent Austin, him­self be­ing harshly crit­i­cized by the hard-core fans, promised he would not keep groups to­gether just for con­ti­nu­ity’s sake.

So it’s safe to as­sume there will be changes in the de­fen­sive back­field for Thurs­day’s mas­sive un­der­tak­ing against the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos.

The pass­ing yardage (over 1,200 yards) that three vet­eran op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs have amassed against this de­fence in three games is un­speak­able. And the next three weeks they’ve got the Mur­derer’s Row of Al­berta com­ing to the plate: Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Reilly again.

The de­fence had held the Lions to just six points through the bet­ter part of two quar­ters.

But a cou­ple of near-sacks, which Lu­lay eluded in his own end, stim­u­lated a 95-yard touch­down drive that pro­ceeded with lit­tle re­sis­tance and gave B.C. a lead it would never sur­ren­der. Pres­sure on the quar­ter­back, and hard cov­er­age in the de­fen­sive back­field be­came more or less a Ti­cat mem­ory af­ter that.

If you’re los­ing and del­i­cately bal­anced, as the Ti­cats are, those kinds of things hap­pen and be­gin re­peat­ing them­selves. A small item like a near-miss snow­balls into a big item, like a long and suc­cess­ful drive. That drive leads to an­other be­cause con­fi­dence builds for one side and shrinks for the other.

It hap­pens on the other side of the ball too. The tap turns off with al­most no warn­ing.

The of­fen­sive line gen­er­ally gave Zach Col­laros more time than he had in the first cou­ple of games, and they scored a pair of ma­jors in the first 16 min­utes. But af­ter that, the of­fence com­pletely lost it­self for a full half-hour of play. Af­ter one two-and out, they were held to an­other, then an­other.

Their nine pos­ses­sions in the mid­dle two quar­ters pro­duced seven two-and-outs, an in­ter­cep­tion that led to the Lions’ sec­ond TD in 59 sec­onds, and only one first down, al­though that did re­sult in a field goal. A de­cent fourth quar­ter by the of­fence has to be viewed in the light of the Lions’ 18-point lead then.

Sud­den neg­a­tive turns can be func­tions of a num­ber of fac­tors in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, an ero­sion of self-be­lief; bet­ter in-game ad­just­ments by the op­po­nents; or ta­lent that is not equal to a 60-minute chal­lenge. All of those have shown up this June and July.

Sports his­tory has re­peat­edly demon­strated that when lit­tle leaks lead in­evitably to floods, a brit­tle team can sub­con­sciously find it­self fear­ing the leaks — and even wait­ing for them. The Ti­cats may not be there yet, but you wouldn’t want to see them get any closer.

Some of the Ti­cats pointed out af­ter­wards that there were many ways in which they were bet­ter than in the pre­vi­ous two games, and that is true, but that the bar was pretty low, no? And when the game was most on the line, there was enough re­gres­sion to put it well out of reach.

And Lu­lay didn’t need that kind of help.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The Lions’ Nick Moore catches a Tavis Lu­lay pass in the end zone over Ti­cats’ Ethan Davis.

PE­TER POWER, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Lions quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay came in early to strafe the Tiger-Cats in a 41-26 B.C. win.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The of­fen­sive line gen­er­ally gave Ti­cats QB Zach Col­laros more time and they scored a pair of ma­jors in the first 16 min­utes.

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