Brandon Banks continues to flourish under Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones.
The five-foot-seven, 155-pound speedster cracked the 1,000-yard receiving plateau for a second straight year Saturday in Hamilton’s 36-25 road win over the Toronto Argonauts. Banks had six catches for 152 yards and two TDs, giving him 69 receptions for a career-best 1,033 yards and seven TDs this season.
It also was Banks’s CFL-leading eighth 100-yard game, four short of the league record.
Banks established himself as one of the CFL’s top returners under former head coach Kent Austin. But Banks had just eight catches for 52 yards and a TD when Jones replaced Austin following Hamilton’s 0-8 start last season.
Banks literally took off in Jones’ offence, recording 59 catches for 959 yards and seven touchdowns over Hamilton’s final 10 regular-season games to finish with 67 receptions for 1,011 yards and eight TDs. He has become a trusted target of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was installed as the starter when Jones took over.
Banks, for one, isn’t surprised by his receiving prowess.
“Yeah, I knew,” he said. “I just had to be patient with my opportunities.
“I’m just enjoying the opportunities I’m having with this offence. It’s a pretty good offence as you can see and we’re getting better every week.”
Masoli, too, has more than justified Jones’ faith. He guided Hamilton to a 6-4 record last year and in 2018 has registered a club record-tying nine 300-yard passing games.
He had seven TD passes in the home-and-home sweep of Toronto. Four were to Banks, who had 15 receptions for 288 yards versus the Argos.
“Man, I can’t say enough about him,” Masoli said. “I’ve already said a bunch about him, I don’t want to blow his head up too much but we all know it he’s a versatile player who can do it all.
“He plays outside of his body … he’s just somebody who’s dependable that we can go to.”
Banks, affectionately dubbed’Speedy,’ or ‘Speedy B’, was at his elusive best in the third quarter Saturday when he went high to snag a Masoli pass between four Toronto defenders. Untouched after making the catch, Banks outran the secondary for a 78-yard TD that put Hamilton ahead 25-13.
“Speedy bought into what we were doing,” said Jones. “He’s become a real positive teammate.”
Hamilton (6-5) has how won three straight to move into a first-place tie with the Ottawa Redblacks in the dysfunctional East Division. The Ticats’ success versus Toronto had some football pundits suggesting they’re for real but consider the Argos (3-8) are tied with Montreal for the league’s worst record.
A more telling test comes Saturday when Hamilton hosts the West Division-leading Calgary Stampeders (9-2).
WILD, WILD WEST: It was an old fashioned shootout Saturday night in Edmonton.
Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly and Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell put on quite the show in the Eskimos’ 48-42 win. Reilly threw for 391 yards with three TDs and also ran for three touchdowns. Mitchell finished with 491 yards through the air with four touchdowns.
But Mitchell almost orchestrated the miracle comeback, pulling Calgary to within six with two fourth-quarter TD strikes to Romar Morris. And with seven seconds remaining, he threw a Hail Mary pass that Juwan Brescacin had in his hands but couldn’t hold on to for the winning TD.
The two teams combined for 1,052 net offensive yards, 12 offensive TDs and 14 kickoffs. Both the net yards and 90 points scored were the most ever recorded in an Edmonton-Calgary game.
The 12 offensive touchdowns was just one shy of the CFL record.
The 90 combined pass attempts put the game in the top two per cent in CFL history (approximately 4,486 regular-season games dating back to 1958).
Edmonton converted Calgary’s turnovers into 31 points and half of the 90 points scored were set up by the nine total turnovers in the contest. And the two teams were a combined 16-of-29 on second down, a 55 per cent conversion rate compared to the league average of just over 35 per cent.
The game was one of just 29 in league history where both teams scored more than 40 points. That puts it inside the top one per cent (0.6 actually) all-time.
UNDER REVIEW: The CFL continued Monday to review Ottawa defensive lineman J.R. Tavai’s nasty hit on B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay in the Lions’ 26-14 home win over the Redblacks on Friday night.
In the second quarter, Tavai led with his helmet to deliver a blow to Lulay’s chin following a thrown pass. Surprisingly, there was no call on the play although Monday a league official said Tavai should’ve been flagged for spearing.
In June, the CFL widened its definition of spearing “to include any situation where a player delivers a blow with his helmet as the initial or primary point of contact,” not including a low-running ball carrier.
Jonathon Jennings came on to complete 10 of 12 passes for 68 yards and a TD for B.C. Fortunately, it seems Lulay escaped serious injury.
Tavai could be fined or suspended by the CFL for the hit.
ROUGH START: It was a tough NFL debut for former CFL kicker Brett Maher.
Maher missed his only field-goal attempt Sunday with Dallas, putting a 47-yard attempt off the upright in the Cowboys’ 16-8 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Maher is already under a spotlight kicking for America’s Team. But it’s very firmly fixed upon the former Redblack and Tiger-Cat, given the Cowboys kept him over veteran Dan Bailey, the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Dallas hosts the New York Giants on Sunday night.
INTERESTING CALL: Like most football teams, the Eskimos make defensive calls by flashing play cards from the sidelines.
But the CFL team has an alignment called the ‘Natasha defence,’ and when it comes time to make that call it does so by displaying a photo of TSN anchor Natasha Staniszewski.
That was certainly the case during Edmonton’s 25-24 road loss in Hamilton on Aug. 23. Defensive back Godfrey Onyeka was shown displaying a photo of Staniszewski, an Edmonton native, posing on a couch above his head on the sidelines to signal a defensive play.
Unfortunately, the Eskimos declined comment when asked by The Canadian Press for clarification on the play call.