HAMILTON — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers bring out the best in Emanuel Davis.
Davis returned two interceptions for touchdowns Sunday afternoon as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat Winnipeg 38-8 to remain unbeaten at Tim Hortons Field. Davis has returned three interceptions for TDs this season and all have come against the Bombers.
Davis had a 35-yard interception return TD in Hamilton’s 52-26 road win over Winnipeg on July 2. What’s more, his two TD performance came on his 26th birthday but the four-year veteran shouldn’t expect anything special from Ticats receiver Bakari Grant.
“He already got his presents,” Grant said, referring to Davis’s two TDs. “I’ll take that for a birthday gift.”
Hamilton head coach/GM Kent Austin deadpanned that maybe he should consider trying to cash in on Davis’s brilliance.
“I told him after the game I have to take him to Vegas,” Austin said with a chuckle. “And it was on his birthday which was really awesome.
“I’m really proud of that young man.”
Davis downplayed his accomplishment, saying he was the recipient of a Hamilton pass rush that made life miserable for Winnipeg quarterbacks, registering seven sacks. Defensive lineman Justin Hickman led the way with three.
“On both I pretty much saw the same thing,” Davis said. “The defensive line collapsed the pocket and the quarterback had to make a decision.
“When the quarterback doesn’t want to throw the ball but has to, that forces mistakes. Luckily we capitalized on them.”
Hamilton (4-2) earned its ninth straight victory at Tim Hortons Field before yet another enthusiastic sellout gathering of 24,068. The Ticats captured their fourth win in five games overall to move into a first-place tie in the East Division with Toronto (4-2) and Ottawa (4-2).
Hamilton’s home win streak is its longest since an 11-game run in 2001-’02.
“It was a long time coming getting into this stadium and in front of our fans,” Davis said.
“Everyone was excited (when Hamilton opened stadium with 13-12 win over Toronto last September) and the momentum has just been carrying over week by week.
“Hopefully we can stay undefeated in front of our home crowd and keep these fans behind us.”
Winnipeg (3-4) lost more than just the game. Starter Drew Willy (knee) was hurt late in the third after taking a hit from Hamilton linebacker Erik Harris. Willy remained on the field clutching his right knee before walking off the field albeit with his arms around two medical personnel.
Willy was 16-of-27 passing for 171 yards with a touchdown and interception before being replaced by Brian Brohm.
“It’s too early to tell,” Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said when asked about the condition of his quarterback.
“It’s the usual, we have to wait and see what the doctor says.”
Hamilton took control early, storming out to a commanding 21-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Davis opened the scoring with a 65-yard return just 2:41 into the quarter.
Ticats quarterback Zach Collaros then hit a wide-open Grant at 4:45 on a 23-yard scoring strike. That was set up by Arnaud Gascon-Nadon’s partially blocked punt that put the Ticats at the Winnipeg 23.
Jay Langa’s recovery of the ensuing kickoff put Hamilton at the Winnipeg 26 and Collaros found offensive lineman Ryan Bomben on the eight-yard TD strike at 7:15.
“It’s Football 101,” said veteran Winnipeg centre Dom Picard. “Turn the ball over and bad things happen.
“It’s a tough one, I’ll give credit to those guys over there (Ticats). They played well. We didn’t play good enough, that’s the bottom line.”
Collaros finished 20-of-32 passing for 280 yards with two interceptions and was sacked five times. Hamilton was minus running back C.J. Gable and slotback Andy Fantuz, who both are on the six-game injured list after suffering arm injuries in Monday night’s 34-18 home win over Toronto.
Davis returned his second pick 53 yards for the TD at 13:40 of the fourth.
Grant and Terrence Toliver had Hamilton’s other touchdowns. Justin Medlock booted the converts and a field goal.
Justin Veltung had Winnipeg’s touchdown. Lirim Hajrullahu kicked the convert and a single.
O’Shea couldn’t explain his team’s lacklustre start.
“I’m going to have to look at the film to figure out how to explain it,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain that start.
“We talked on the sidelines right after, that (when) adversity hits let’s control that next play, be dominant on the next play. But it didn’t work out that way.”