Team’s task: Win fast or be toast by Thanks­giv­ing


The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - DREW ED­WARDS CAL­GARY

— It’s only Au­gust, but there are al­ready plenty of rea­sons to be con­cerned about the state of the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats. And yet they can still save their sea­son. The team has yet to win a game in 2017 — they are 0-5 — and are com­ing off a 59-point de­feat at the hands of the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers.

The big sto­ries from prac­tice in­cluded a brawl between of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive play­ers, and the sud­den hir­ing of a new as­sis­tant head coach — pos­si­ble signs of a frus­trated and in­creas­ingly des­per­ate team.

Oh, and their op­po­nent on Friday: the un­de­feated Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos.

With 18 reg­u­lar sea­son games and just nine teams,

score­board watch­ing and ad­vanced stand­ings math­e­mat­ics are usu­ally re­served for the pe­riod post-Labour Day. And while the Ti­cats have been the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of a dom­i­nant West Di­vi­sion — they’ve gone 12-2 against the East so far this sea­son — the Ti­cats can’t af­ford to fall much fur­ther be­hind.

They are — ob­vi­ously — in last place in the East but are just four points be­hind the sec­ond-place Montreal Alou­ettes and three be­hind the Ot­tawa Red­blacks. If the play­offs were to start to­day, Win­nipeg would cross over into the East and play the sec­ond-place team: Hamil­ton needs three wins to catch the Blue Bombers.

But Ot­tawa and Win­nipeg play each other this week so Hamil­ton will be even fur­ther be­hind one of those teams if they can’t find a way to pull off an im­prob­a­ble up­set on Friday in Ed­mon­ton.

The sched­ule has been un­kind to the Ti­cats in the early go­ing.

They are about to fin­ish a stretch that’s seen them play five of their first six against the stronger West Di­vi­sion while host­ing just two con­tests at Tim Hortons Field. They also had a bye in week two.

The flip side is that the team will soon re­turn to Hamil­ton where they will play seven of their last 12 con­tests in front of the home crowd.

Im­prob­a­ble as it may seem, the Ti­cats still con­trol their own play­off des­tiny, a sit­u­a­tion that won’t change even if they lose Friday night in Ed­mon­ton.

What the Ti­cats do not have, how­ever, is any mar­gin of er­ror.

Losses against East Di­vi­sion teams would be akin to nails in the cof­fin and it won’t take many to get the lid fas­tened tight. Hav­ing fallen to Toronto in Week 1, a loss on Labour Day would give the sea­son se­ries to the Ar­gos and put the Ti­cats in all kinds of trou­ble: that game will have a play­off at­mos­phere and real post-sea­son im­pli­ca­tions.

That game will be sold out — it al­ways is — but as the losses pile up, it will in­ter­est­ing to see how long the fans stay en­gaged.

The team has sold out every game at Tim Hortons Field since it opened in 2014 — a stretch of 29 games — but they’ve also hosted a play­off game each sea­son. It’s un­likely they can sus­tain it if the team con­tin­ues to fal­ter.

There is only one, ex­ceed­ingly sim­ple so­lu­tion for the Ti­cats at this point: Win some games and fast.

Other­wise, Hamil­ton’s sea­son of dis­con­tent will be well and truly over be­fore Thanks­giv­ing.

The Ti­cats have hired June Jones, who has 34 years of NCAA, CFL and NFL coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, as as­sis­tant head coach.

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