Tiger-Cats heading back to Grey Cup, beat Alouettes 40-24
Hamilton Tiger-Cats Terrell Sinkfield and Montreal Alouettes Chip Cox at Tim Hortons Field during the 1st half of the CFL Eastern Final in Hamilton, Ont. on Sunday November 23, 2014. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)
HAMILTON — The Ticats are heading back to the Grey Cup.
A year ago, they beat the host Argos in the East final, but lost to the host Roughriders in a championship game.
The road this year went through Tim Hortons Field, where the Ticats have been unbeaten in seven games and, at times, unchallenged.
It remains to be seen what plays out next week in Vancouver, site of the 102nd Grey Cup, but the Ticats were deserving of their win Sunday afternoon, trailing early, but never really threatened by the Als, whose feel-good story ended in misery following Hamilton’s 40-24 win.
“It’s a special moment, not only for this team, but also for this city,’’ said rookie Taylor Reed. “I remember like it was yesterday and we were 1-6. Coach (Kent Austin) preached to us: ‘What a fantasy ending it’s going to be when we get to the Grey Cup and hopefully win it all.’
“That’s been the plan. We all believed in our coaching staff, they believed in us and the fans believed in us.”
Montreal did make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter, but had no answer for Brandon Banks, the elusive kick returner who scored two touchdowns on punt runbacks — a third was nullified by a penalty — the decisive score an 88-yard scamper that provided the Tabbies with a 37-24 lead in the fourth quarter.
Banks — part Chris Williams with his speed and part Bashir Levingston in how he attacks the perimeter — also had a dazzling 93-yard punt return for a major late in the second quarter that put the home side ahead to stay.
A free-agent signing, Banks — nicknamed Speedy B — produced a playoff-record 226 yards on five punt returns.
He was good, but the Als were woeful in their cover unit, being exploited on the perimeter and never capable of making the necessary adjustments.
“All he has to do is a see a crease,’’ said Reed. “He has a second, third gear. The second punt return he took (for a touchdown) we were in punt safety. I mean, our defence was out there.
“We gave him a little bit of blocks, but he literally saw a little slit and he hit it. He’s one of those special players and all he needs is one small crack and he’ll take it the distance.”
Special teams coach Jeff Reinebold encouraged the defence to remain on the field.
“Coach made the call,’’ said Reed. “He had the defence stay on the field just in case of a fake. We kept our punt-safe look out there and Speedy did the rest.”
Ticats QB Zach Collaros made his playoff debut, but he needs to be better next week. For starters, the Ticats need to spread the ball better and be a little more aggressive in their playcalling.
Jonathan Crompton finally was exposed, the Als unable to build on their early 7-0 lead, forced to throw the football far too often against a very good Ticats defence that stopped the run, as it always does.
Both Crompton and Collaros had their moments, but each seemed to focus in too much on the same receiver. In Crompton’s case, it would be S.J. Green, who hauled in three TD passes. For Collaros, it was Luke Tasker.
Neither team was playing what anyone would describe as high-level football and neither should have been leading at halftime, but special teams often loom large and the Ticats had the edge.
From average to below average, Crompton threw across his body and into coverage in the third quarter, a turnover that should have been a thrown away. Instead, the Ticats would parlay the poorly thrown ball into a touchdown and a 27-14 lead.
Montreal has overcome the odds all season, rebounding from a 1-7 start. Heading into the final quarter, the odds were even greater, the wind against them, the sold-out crowd of 24,334 against them and the team’s offence not capable of stringing together enough positive plays.
Crompton did show a lot of toughness, using his feet at times and then his arm, making a great throw into the wind for a 63-yard bomb to Green and the game, which had lacked drama, suddenly had some, the Ticats leading only 27-24.
The Als, though, have been vulnerable on special teams and Banks would seal the deal with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown with 3:44 left.
With the Grey Cup to be played indoors next week at B.C. Place, the Ticats have speed and the passing game to make it a track meet.
And now that Collaros has a taste of post-season football, he’ll be better.