COOL CATS

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - DAN RALPH THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Jeremiah Ma­soli and the Tiger-Cats host the B.C. Lions in East Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal, and Mother Na­ture could play a role,

The Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats aren’t ex­actly head­ing into the East Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal on a roll.

Hamil­ton (8-10) hosts the B.C. Lions (9-9) on Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter drop­ping its fi­nal three reg­u­lar-sea­son con­tests. While hardly ideal, the Ti­cats still fin­ished se­cond in the East stand­ings to se­cure home field for the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal.

And in the last two sea­sons, both Ot­tawa (8-9-1) and Toronto (9-9) went on to cap­ture the Grey Cup af­ter post­ing medi­ocre reg­u­lar-sea­son records.

But that’s of lit­tle so­lace to Ti­cats head coach June Jones.

“Our goal was to just get here ... and then to the Grey Cup,” he said. “That’s all I’m think­ing about, that’s all the kids are think­ing about.

“If you win in Novem­ber, you win it all.”

Trou­ble is, Hamil­ton hasn’t done a lot of win­ning this sea­son at Tim Hor­tons Field. The Ti­cats were 4-5 at home, al­though one of those wins was a con­vinc­ing 40-10 de­ci­sion over B.C. on Sept. 29.

But the Ti­cats haven’t won since los­ing all-star re­ceiver Bran­don Banks (94 catches, 1,423 yards, 11 TDs) to a sea­so­nend­ing bro­ken clav­i­cle in a 3531road loss to Ot­tawa on Oct.19.

Hamil­ton quar­ter­back Jeremiah Ma­soli has en­joyed a solid ’18 sea­son — his first full cam­paign as a CFL starter — with 5,209 pass­ing yards to se­cure the East nom­i­na­tion for the league’s most out­stand­ing player award. Yet Banks had be- come a trusted tar­get for Ma­soli. How­ever, some­thing both teams could have to con­tend with is Mother Na­ture. It’s been a cool, windy and wet week in Hamil­ton and Sun­day’s fore­cast calls for a high of 3 C with15 kilo­me­tre-an-hour winds and a 40 per cent chance of snow.

B.C. plays its home games in a dome. But the Lions prac­tised out­doors Fri­day at Ron Joyce Sta­dium and head coach Wally Buono, who’ll re­tire at sea­son’s end, doesn’t be­lieve weather will be a fac­tor.

“The big thing is the men­tal prepa­ra­tion,” he said. “The guys have come in ear­lier, we’ve prac­tised ear­lier, we’ve met ear­lier, it’s all part of get­ting them used to eastern time.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to prac­tise in the en­vi­ron­ment that you’re go­ing to play in … the guys got used to the el­e­ments.” But wind can wreak havoc with the kick­ing game, putting ex­tra pres­sure on Hamil­ton’s Lirim Ha­jrul­lahu and B.C.’s Ty Long. Jones, a former quar­ter­back, said breezy con­di­tions can im­pact game plans and play calls.

“De­pend­ing on (which di­rec­tion) the wind is blow­ing, I will take into con­sid­er­a­tion what types of routes I throw to the right and what types of routes I throw to the left,” Jones said. “If it’s a left-to-right wind you’re go­ing to catch cer­tain passes to the right and we’ll throw cer­tain things (the other) way.”

With Ma­soli be­hind cen­tre, Hamil­ton’s of­fence av­er­aged 405.6 to­tal yards per game (first over­all) and 310.7 yards pass­ing (No. 2). But B.C.’s de­fence fin­ished tied for most sacks (45) and was ranked se­cond against the pass (247.2 yards).

No cross­over squad has ever reached the Grey Cup since the con­cept’s in­tro­duc­tion in 1996.

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