Tiger-Cats walk­ing a play­off tightrope against Cal­gary

HOST STAM­PED­ERS

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - DREW ED­WARDS

Luke Tasker has his per­fect Fri­day night all planned.

If ev­ery­thing goes as an­tic­i­pated, the vet­eran Hamilton TigerCats re­ceiver will win a foot­ball game with 43 of his clos­est friends, shower, put on his boots and head to a lo­cal es­tab­lish­ment for some cel­e­bra­tory li­ba­tions.

But should the Ticats lose to the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers, he’ll likely forgo the postgame rev­elry and in­stead spend the rest of the evening ner­vously watch­ing the Ottawa Red­blacks take on the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers with his team’s play­off fu­ture hang­ing in the bal­ance.

“I don’t want to watch it and I hope that I don’t have to,” Tasker said. “But if our fate hangs on it ...”

The Ticats still con­trol their own post-sea­son destiny.

If they win their fi­nal four games, they’re in.

But a loss to Cal­gary on Fri­day and a win by Ottawa in Regina later that evening and Hamilton is out of play­off con­tention and their fi­nal three games will be of the glo­ri­fied ex­hi­bi­tion va­ri­ety.

While the Ticats are cer­tainly play­ing bet­ter foot­ball since their 0-8 start — they are now 4-2 since June Jones be­gan as head coach — beat­ing Cal­gary is a tall or­der.

The Stamps are 12-1-1, have won 10 straight and are 15-0 com­ing off a bye (which they are do­ing this week) dat­ing back to 2005. Want some more? The Ticats haven’t beaten the Stam­ped­ers since the Touch­down At­lantic game in 2011 and quar­ter­back Bo Levi Mitchell has never lost to Hamilton. Ever. Oh, and the last time th­ese two teams played, July 29, Cal­gary won 60-1 — though that re­sult, in­ter­est­ingly enough, doesn’t ap­pear to be part of Hamilton’s cur­rent psy­cho­log­i­cal makeup. “I hon­estly don’t think so. I don’t even think Cal­gary would hang their hat on the fact that they beat us 60-1,” Tasker said. “It’s just so clear that we’re dif­fer­ent now.”

Jones is the big­gest fac­tor in that tran­si­tion, a calm­ing in­ter­est with a long his­tory in the game. He even has a con­nec­tion to Mitchell — he re­cruited him out of high school to play at Hawaii and then SMU where Jones was head coach.

“I’m re­ally proud of him. I’ve been a big fan of his since for­ever,” said Jones, who texted with Mitchell this week.

“He’s go­ing to make some plays, there’s a rea­son that they’re 12-1 and he’s a large of part of it.”

Af­ter his team’s con­vinc­ing road win over Win­nipeg last week, Jones has elected to go with much the same lineup against Cal­gary, mak­ing just a sin­gle change: New­comer Kenny Allen will han­dle the kick­ing du­ties in place of the in­jured Ser­gio Castillo.

Allen has a boom­ing leg — he was try­ing make it to the NFL as a punter be­fore sign­ing with Hamilton on Mon­day — and is listed as six-foot­three, 223 pounds.

That’s led Jones to cre­ate a new cat­e­gory beyond the usual “rel­a­tively nor­mal” and “de­cid­edly quirky” kick­ers usu­ally fall into.

“He seems like an ath­lete kicker,” Jones said. “He looks like a tight end or a de­fen­sive end.”

Should the Ticats win Fri­day, Allen — who was lament­ing his lack of friends ear­lier this week — might even get him­self in­vited out for one of those cel­e­bra­tory bev­er­ages.

“Some of the best mem­o­ries when you’re a pro­fes­sional foot­ball player is win­ning games with your team­mates. There’s noth­ing like it and we missed out on a lot of that early on,” Tasker said.

“I think we have the feel­ing that we can win games right now.”

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