HAMILTON, Ont. — Hamilton’s offence was sputtering with a crucial piece lost to injury, but the Tiger-Cats defence held the Edmonton Eskimos at bay long enough for a comeback.
After losing running back C.J. Gable at the start of the game, the Ticats forced three turnovers and Zach Collaros connected with Brandon Banks for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter en route to a 25-23 at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday.
“The defence was unbelievable,” said Collaros, who finished the game 25 for 35 for 275 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and one interception. “I gave (Edmonton) a touchdown, and if you take that away, we win this pretty easily.”
Having just returned from the disabled list, Gable suffered a shoulder injury on the team’s opening offensive series and did not return. The Ticats had not dressed a replacement.
Hamilton head coach Kent Austin said the loss of an effective running option played havoc with his playbook, and forced offensive coordinator Tommy Condell to get creative.
“That was one of the all-time top performances I’ve ever seen from a playcaller,” said Austin. “It had a cascading effect on our personnel groupings. We actually had to rename some of our groupings.”
The Tiger-Cats (4-7) held the Eskimos (8-4) to 316 total yards in the win. It was Hamilton’s second consecutive win, and their third in four games.
Hamilton has now won consecutive games against West Division opponents after beginning the season 0-6 against the West.
Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly was 23 for 42 for 268 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble.
Eskimos head coach Chris Jones deemed the game winnable, but the execution just wasn’t there.
“Everything we could possibly have done to let them back into the game, we did,” said Jones. “Defensively, it looked like we hadn’t practised all week.”
Collaros dumped a short pass to Banks, who turned the corner and ran 42 yards for the touchdown that gave Hamilton a 24-16 lead.
Defence ruled the first quarter as neither team got on the scoreboard and Hamilton held Edmonton to just 12 net yards of offence in the first 15 minutes.
Hamilton marched the ball to Edmonton’s six-yard line as the quarter came to an end on a drive that included a 31-yard reception by Andy Fantuz, his longest of the season. But the Ticats were forced to settle for a Justin Medlock chip-shot field goal from 13 yards.
Edmonton receiver Fred Stamps moved up to second in the Eskimos all-time receiving yards list with a 30-yard catch in the second quarter, passing Terry Vaughn’s previous mark of 7,681.
After a 64-yard punt single got the Eskimos on the board, the visitors benefited from an undisciplined play by Ticats defensive back Delvin Breaux, who was flagged for a combination of unnecessary roughness and pass interference that netted 34 penalty yards and moved Edmonton to the Hamilton eight-yard line.
Another penalty, this one to defensive end Eric Norwood, moved Edmonton to the four, and the Eskimos crossed the goal-line three plays later when Tyler Thomas hauled in a pass from Reilly in the flats.
The Eskimos defence seized on the momentum and added to their lead on the Ticats ensuing drive, when Odell Willis popped the ball loose from the arms of Collaros and Alonzo Lawrence returned the fumble 16 yards for a touchdown to give Edmonton a 15-3 lead.
Edmonton running back Kendial Lawrence left the game with a lower body injury in the second quarter and did not return.
“We ran the tests at halftime, and he was showing concussion-like symptoms,” Jones said of Lawrence.
In a third quarter dominated by the defences, Hamilton’s Rico Murray intercepted Reilly for his team-leading fourth pick of the season. It was the seventh interception the quarterback has thrown this year.
The two teams combined for 11 sacks through three quarters.
A crucial interception by Hamilton cornerback Courtney Stephen to open fourth quarter spurred a five-play, 40-yard touchdown drive that ended with a one-yard sneak by Collaros and gave the Ticats a 17-15 lead.
After Banks’ winning touchdown at 12:20 of the fourth quarter, the Ticats added a single point on a punt single at 13:26.
Reilly found Fred Stamps for a touchdown with six seconds remaining in the game.