Brandon Banks and Don Jackson scored touchdowns as an opportunistic Hamilton Tiger-Cats squad defeated the Montreal Alouettes 23-12 in the East Division semifinal on a snowy Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton rode its defence to victory. The unit forced five turnovers (three fumbles, interception, downs) and recorded five sacks to the delight of a Tim Hortons Field gathering of 21,892.
That <a href=”https://twitter.com/Ticats?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Ticats</a> defence stepping up again late, and doing it by committee!<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/GCPlayoffs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#GCPlayoffs</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Hf8KDpZVua”>pic.twitter.com/Hf8KDpZVua</a>
With the win, Hamilton will face the Toronto Argonauts next Sunday in the East Division final at BMO Field. The Argos won the season series 3-1.
Hamilton dodged a huge bullet when Papi White lost a punt-return fumble with 5:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Ticats were successful on their challenge of no-yards on the play to maintain possession.
That set up Michael Domagala’s 17-yard field goal at 11:54 of the fourth quarter that moved Hamilton ahead 23-10.
Montreal drove to the Hamilton 10-yard line but Harris’s third-down pass to Quan Bray was incomplete. That gave the Ticats the ball with 1:38 remaining but they surrendered a safety with 58 seconds remaining.
This marked the first playoff meeting between Montreal and Hamilton since 2014, when the Ticats prevailed 40-24 in the East Division final. This win came after Alouettes linebacker Patrick Levels guaranteed Monday his team would emerge victorious and earn its first playoff victory since 2014.
The two teams split their season series 1-1 with each winning on the road, but Hamilton faced Montreal starter Trevor Harris for the first time. Vernon Adams Jr. played in the first two games before suffering a shoulder ailment that resulted in the Als acquiring Harris from Edmonton.
Harris was 28-of-44 passing for 364 yards and a TD but also had an interception and lost three fumbles. Harris threw five TD passes and no interceptions in his final two regular-season starts.
Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli finished 18-of-28 passing for 184 yards and a TD.
Domagala finished with three field goals and two converts.
Eugene Lewis scored Montreal’s touchdown. David Cote kicked a field goal and convert.
Montreal cut Hamilton’s lead to 20-10 on Harris’s 28-yard TD pass to Lewis at 6:47 of the third. It ended a smart five-play, 93-yard drive.
Capitalizing on miscues
Hamilton had the ball for just nine minutes 59 seconds in the first half but took advantage of Montreal miscues late in the second quarter to take a 20-3 half-time lead.
Domagala kicked a 37-yard field goal on the final play of the half. It was set up by Stavros Katsantonis’s interception and return to Montreal 54 with 29 seconds remaining.
Domagala connected from 38 yards out at 13:54 to put Hamilton ahead 17-3. It came after Ticats’ defensive tackle Dylan Wynn recovered Trevor Harris’s fumble.
Jackson’s six-yard TD run at 12:44 gave Hamilton a 14-3 advantage. The Ticats’ six-play, 53-yard drive was also aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Als defensive lineman Michael Wakefield.
Masoli put Hamilton ahead 7-3 with a 20-yard TD strike to Banks at 8:24. It came two plays after Julian Howsare returned a Harris fumble 45 yards to the Montreal 22-yard line. Ticats’ defensive tackle Ted Laurent caused the turnover.
Cote kicked 17-yard field goal at 9:42 of the first. It capped a 13-play, 95-yard opening march for Montreal that included two roughing-the-passer penalties.