Be­ware the Eskimo chill

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - ded­wards@thes­pec.com 905-526-2481 | @scratch­ing­post

For the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats, bad things seem to hap­pen when the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos are around.

In ad­di­tion to end­ing the Ti­cats’ 2016 cam­paign with a last-sec­ond field goal in the East semi­fi­nal, the Eski­mos were, at the very least, wit­nesses to cat­a­strophic mo­ments the last two sea­sons, not-so-in­no­cent by­standers as the Ti­cat sea­son changed course for the worse.

In 2015, the Ti­cats were 8-3 when the Eski­mos came to town for a Septem­ber con­test that saw Hamil­ton quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros go down with a knee in­jury that would end his sea­son and se­verely dent the team’s Grey Cup hopes (they went 2-5 the rest of he way).

The fol­low­ing Oc­to­ber, Cana­dian re­ceiver Andy Fan­tuz, in the midst of his best sea­son as a Ti­cat, ru­ined his knee on a seem­ingly in­no­cent play against, yes, the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos. Fan­tuz is still out and the team hasn’t won a game since he went down.

That dis­mal record in­cludes an 0-3 start in 2017 with those same Eski­mos com­ing to town on Thurs­day for Hamil­ton’s sec­ond home game in six days. It would be easy to say that things couldn’t get any worse for the Ti­cats but head coach Kent Austin said there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween “wor­ried” — which likely de­scribes half the Black and Gold faith­ful — and “con­cerned,” which en­cap­su­late the rest.

“Worry is dif­fer­ent than con­cern. We don’t worry but we’re al­ways con­cerned. We’d be con­cerned if we were 3-0,” Austin said. “It’s sys­tem­atic. The first thing you have to do is iden­tify where the weak­nesses are and then you have to de­ter­mine how to cor­rect it, if you can.”

The de­fen­sive sec­ondary which has sur­ren­dered ca­reer-pass­ing days in two of the first three weeks, is likely still on the list of said con­cerns. Hamil­ton has made an­other set of mi­nor tweaks, mov­ing Keon Lyn from strong-side line­backer to cor­ner and adding Ter­rence Fred­er­ick as a back up but other­wise the ros­ter re­mains largely un­changed from the crew that lost 41-26 to B.C. last Satur­day.

“Belief is a funny thing ... win­ning takes care of a lot of that stuff. The guys just need some pos­i­tive things to hap­pen, get a vic­tory and get back on track,” Austin said.

In Ed­mon­ton, things are al­ready rolling along nicely. Led by head coach Ja­son Maas and quar­ter­back Mike Reilly, the Esks are the last un­de­feated team in the

CFL and are find­ing a way a win: their three vic­to­ries this sea­son have come by a com­bined nine points.

“Win­ning shows char­ac­ter. Since last Septem­ber, we’ve been in a lot of tight games so they know how to win,” Maas said.

“When games get tight, guys don’t tighten up they just keep bat­tling. It’s a mind­set. It’s a cul­ture that we try and cre­ate on a day-to-day ba­sis. When you win close games, you gain con­fi­dence.”

That is, of course, ex­actly what the Ti­cats are look­ing for: some re­as­sur­ance that their work and tal­ent will even­tu­ally be rec­og­nized.

“You need pos­i­tive things to re­in­force your emo­tions,” Austin said. “Win­ning pro­vides the emo­tional glue. We want to win ev­ery game we play but right now we’re just try­ing to get our first one and that will go a long way.”

Austin dis­misses Rid­ers’ spy­ing al­le­ga­tions as ‘ab­surd’

Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin has dis­missed al­le­ga­tions that the Ti­cats used in­side in­for­ma­tion from Rider prac­tice be­fore the teams’ July 8 con­test.

“Oh Chris … that’s ab­surd,” said Austin, chuck­ling.

“God for­bid that we ac­tu­ally pre­pared our play­ers and coaches.”

Jones has closed one prac­tice a week for the rest of the sea­son, as per­mit­ted by CFL rules, claim­ing that the Rid­ers were at a dis­ad­van­tage against the Ti­cats.

“As soon as they walked out on the field they iden­ti­fied it in five sec­onds so you know some­body had to be here watch­ing prac­tice and told them, ‘hey, if they’re do­ing this, it’s a punt block.’ We’re not go­ing to al­low that to hap­pen,” Jones said.

“So we’re go­ing to close prac­tice and if we do have any­thing, we’ll work on it on the day that’s closed and that way no­body gets the up­per hand on us.”

Saskatchewan won the game against Hamil­ton 37-20.

“It didn’t work out too well for us, ex­cept for that play, huh?” Austin said. “If we were do­ing that, I need to fire the scouts.”

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Zach Col­laros had the B.C. Lions on the run early in Satur­day night’s loss. DREW ED­WARDS

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