At the start of the year, all a CFL team wants is a chance to go to the Grey Cup. Friday night the Hamilton Tiger Cats took one large leap in the direction of Lord Greys trophy! They’ve been away for two years, but in front of a sold out Ivor Wynne stadium the Hamilton Tiger Cats clinched a playoff spot in the CFL East. They head for the Eastern semi final with a double overtime, 20-17 victory over a very determined and gutsy Ottawa Renegades squad.
The Cats controlled the bulk of the play but just couldn’t put away the pesky Rens who kept close right up to the very bitter end. Ottawa’s horrendous luck continued through this game, as Quarterback Darnell Kennedy broke his hand in the second quarter, making way for third string QB Brad Banks who did an admirable job of keeping his frustrated and injury plagued team close, almost stealing one from the Cats.
For Ottawa the loss will signal the end of their playoff aspirations for this 2004 campaign, and perhaps set the scene for a huge house cleaning. 2004 has been a disappointment for the team that had great expectations for the year that they host the Grey Cup. But after getting off to a decent start, injuries started to play a factor in their on field performance. Problems began early when Kerry Josephs injured his knee and was out of the line up for the bulk of the summer, he returned as the Rens went into September but was injured and done for the season last week.
The uncertainty of the QB situation due to injuries and some turmoil in the front office seemed to drain the Rens of a lot of opportunity through the year, close some games, blown out the other; they never seemed to develop a consistent groove to build on. High profile off season signing Pat Woodcock did not have his best year this season, while he had a great game Friday in Hamilton; on the whole the output was not near what it was expected to be through the season. Josh Ranek continued to run the ball well, but he’s not been as dominating in the last few weeks as he was at the start of the season. Even the final play of the game Friday defined the Rens season, marching down the field in the second set of overtime downs, Banks tossed the ball to Curtis Jackson who fumbled the ball on the Ti cat 35. With the recovery the game came to an end and the celebration was on in Hamilton.
That ending pretty well tells the story of the Renegades luck this year, a frustrating situation from the players, to the coaches all the way into the owner’s box. They play out the string against Montreal next week in the Big O; the Als booked the east end stadium for their final game of the season on the off chance that they might be battling the Rens for playoff positioning. With the Rens now eliminated, the game will instead turn into a pep rally to send the Als off to the playoffs.
Friday night in Hamilton was a terrific indication as to just how far this team has come in one short year. This time last year the Cats were broke wards of the league and had the worst record in the CFL at 1 and 17 as the season ended. Bob Young bought the team, some innovative ideas were brought into the office and a rookie Canadian college coach in Greg Adams was given his chance to turn around a once proud franchise. And turn things around he did, the Cats seem to have a fire not seen in Hamilton in years. For Adams the season couldn’t be heading in a better direction.
Over 250,000 fans have come through the gates at Ivor Wynne, a record for the fabled franchise. Tonight was the last regular season game of the year for Hamilton fans, and over 29 thousand fans were there to watch their team clinch the playoff spot.
Hamilton hits the road to finish off the season; they will travel to Toronto next Thursday for a game that may be of great importance. Should Calgary upset the Argos on Saturday, then the Argos/Hamilton game may end up being a battle for the right to host the Eastern semi final. They then will head to Ottawa to wrap up the season at Frank Clair stadium. Considering the outpouring of enthusiasm for Ti Cat football this year, you have to think they would love to be able to give the fans in Hamilton one more game this year.
But even if the Argos persevere and secure home field advantage, you get the feeling that this year the QEW will be clogged in an eastward direction. Ti Cat fans have rediscovered their football club; expect them to be following them across the East in the month of November.