BY MATT BAKER
ALL week long they talked about the need to capitalize on their opportunities. And the failure to do just that cost your BC Lions (6-7-0) in a 24-23 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-9-0) on Friday night at BC Place.
Sergio Castillo kicked a 50-yard field goal with ten seconds left to seal the deal, as Hamilton escaped with their first victory in Vancouver since the 2011 season. The difference in this one: the lack of red zone production for Jeremiah Johnson and company, who managed just one touchdown on four chances inside the visitors’ 20-yard line.
The end result was a sub .500 record and even more lost ground in what is proving to be an uphill climb in the club’s quest to make the playoffs for a 21st consecutive season. The fourth place Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-5) have two games in hand ahead of a Sunday showdown with Calgary.
“It just sucks to be in this position,” a fired up Johnson said after the loss.
“That team played a great game, man. Hamilton came with a great offensive game plan. I just think when we get down to the goal line we have to come away with seven, not three. That’s the whole story right there. That’s what we have to work on in the bye week.”
“No! We don’t need a bye week! We need to get back at it! I am staying down. I have to work on my craft, I have to work on stiff- arming guys and just being a beast, man. I put this loss on me. I fumbled today. This performance as a team is just lacklustre and we have to come out better, man. Nothing else,” Johnson added.
The home squad struggled to finish drives, finding the end zone just once on a Jonathon Jennings three-yard run in the first quarter. Ty Long’s fifth field goal of the night put the Lions ahead with 2:19 to play before Ticats QB Jeremiah Masoli engineered a winning drive that included a 3rd and 6 conversion to Luke Tasker with Hamilton just shy of midfield.
One of the chances they let slip that could be talked about as a possible dagger when all is said and done came after Shaq Johnson made a 48-yard circus catch that set them up with a first and goal on the three. What followed was a pair of incompletions and the Lions were forced to settle for another field goal…. instead of potentially leading by three.
“You score (a touchdown) there, it’s a huge play,” said GM/head coach Wally Buono.
“When you look at it, we didn’t execute there. It cost us four points and in the end it cost us the game.”
Running back Alex Green, signed by the Tiger-Cats this past week, was a thorn in the Lions’ side with 13 carries for 140 yards. His ability to extend drives and flip the field position proved to be a big difference. The former Green Bay Packer had not played a down of meaningful football since 2013.
“He made some good cuts and they did some good things,” added Buono.
“They hadn’t run the ball much and we’ve been very good against the run all year. I think once or twice we didn’t have the people in the right gap, but that’s football. You’re going to make mistakes. When you look at the yards, we ran the ball as well as they did and you’ve got to give them credit. They came on the road and they won a game they needed.”
Masoli threw a pair of touchdown passes in his fourth start since taking over from Zach Collaros. The Tickets are 3-1 in those games.
Buono’s squad has a bye next week before returning home to battle the Ottawa REDBLACKS at BC Place on Saturday, October 7th.
“Eventually, you’re going to run out of opportunities. We went to Calgary and let it came away, came here and it was back and forth. Sometimes, you’ve just got to face reality,” said the CFL all-time wins leader.
Another Back Breaker Came When…..
On the play after Tasker’s 3rd down conversion when Micah Awe had Masoli dead to rights, yet couldn’t bring the quarterback down for a big loss. Instead of being out of field goal range and facing 2nd and forever, the Ticats were able to hand off to Green, who picked up four important yards and set Castillo up for the game winner . Game of inches? Cliché, yes. But very much true.
345- passing yards for Jennings, his best total of the season to date.
87– a team-high receiving yards for Johnson, who also chipped in with 91 on the ground.
480– the Lions’ total offence with only one touchdown to show for it.
6.8– average yards on second down for the Ticats. They had the worst conversion rate (38.1 percent) coming in.
10.8– average yards per carry for Green in the Ticats’ backfield.
3– total number of sacks for the Lions’ defence. Another was wiped out by a penalty.
11– the highest number of wins the Lions can get to this season. Would it be enough? That remains to be seen. They will not match last year’s 12-6 record.
“That’s fair to say. This organization is a proud one and it hates to lose. I can’t remember ever being last in the West, besides for 2011 when we started slow and one the Grey Cup. This organization isn’t used to losing. That’s tough to handle. We have to put all of our energy into this last five games because they will control our fate.”- Solomon Elimimian when asked if this was the lowest he has felt in the Lions’ locker room.
Diamond and Diamond Injury Report
Left tackle Hunter Steward was lost for the second half due to concussion symptoms. He went through protocol and will be re-evaluated throughout the bye week.
We will echo Elimimian’s comments. Nothing is decided yet, but you would be hard pressed to find the last time that locker room felt that way after a game. I was in the makeshift portable locker room after some of those losses at Empire Field in 2011. You could certainly draw the parallels. The big difference was the fact there was plenty more football left to play. Six years later, their time is almost up.
You can’t pin this one on Jennings. In fact, this result probably masks a lot of the good things he did in this one. He looked much more comfortable in the pocket and was even able to extend a couple of plays with his feet. His 27-yard 2nd quarter scramble looked to put them in striking distance again before Johnson’s fumble gave the ball back to Hamilton.
Chris Williams had his best outing of the season, hauling in five passes for 54 yards. Half of that yardage came after the catch. It was certainly a glimpse of what he can provide to this offence and the speedster should be a big factor in the final five games.
Although Alex Bazzie was predictably quiet in his first CFL game action in almost a year, it was great to see him sack Massoli on the game’s opening play. Bazzie would finish with one more tackle.
Full credit to the Tiger-Cats. They certainly played like a team whose season was on the line. Case in point: after going ahead 7-0, new head coach June Jones elected to try an onside kick that was ultimately recovered by Bazzie.