WINNIPEG — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ plan to pounce on their opponent early worked to perfection on Friday night.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw a 60-yard touchdown strike on his team’s first drive and the Tiger-Cats went on to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 30-13.
"We definitely had that plan coming in, and it did set the tone for sure," Masoli said. "We’re a confident bunch and once we get a play like that, we’re ready to go for the whole game."
Masoli completed 27-of-33 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also added 48 yards on eight rushes.
The Tiger-Cats improved to 4-10 on the season and 4-2 under June Jones, who replaced Kent Austin as head coach on Aug. 2 after Hamilton began the season 0-8.
Hamilton is three points behind the Ottawa Redblacks for second place in the CFL’s East Division.
The Ticats relied heavily on their running game and rushed the ball 29 times.
"It worked out that way because it was working," Jones said. "We were going to start the game with two runs, I told the (offensive line). I said, ‘We need to get a first down with those two that will set the stage,’ and it did."
The Bombers fell to 10-4 on the season, and had their five-game winning streak at Investors Group Field snapped. Winnipeg is second in the West Division.
Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, who entered the game as the CFL’s top-rated quarterback, left at halftime with a suspected upper-body injury and didn’t return.
"(He’s) in seeing docs right now and we’ll get him checked out again tomorrow, see how they wake up," Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said.
The loss of Nichols for any extended period of time would be a big blow to the team, according to running back Andrew Harris.
"To see a guy like that go down, it’s tough," Harris said. "He’s our leader, man."
Nichols was 14 of 18 for 158 yards, a touchdown and an interception prior to his departure.
Tiger-Cats kicker Sergio Castillo had to be carried off the field after trying to make a tackle on a return following a missed 38-yard field-goal close to halftime and didn’t return.
"Until the doctors tell me, I don’t know," Jones said of Castillo, noting he would have to look for a replacement if Castillo is out long-term.
Hamilton held a 10-0 lead after the first quarter.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," said Bombers defensive back Chris Randle.
Masoli found receiver Brandon Banks behind Winnipeg’s defence for a 60-yard touchdown 70 seconds after the opening kickoff for a 7-0 lead.
Banks paced Hamilton with six catches for 104 yards and the TD.
Castillo made his first of three field goals to extend the lead to 10-0 on a 38-yard attempt. He made his second on a 50-yard kick on the first play of the second quarter to put Hamilton up 13-0.
A five-yard pass from Nichols to running back Timothy Flanders got Winnipeg on the scoreboard later in the second, cutting the deficit to 13-7.
After Castillo made it 16-7, his counterpart in Bombers kicker Justin Medlock, who missed three field goal attempts in Week 16, converted on a 48-yard attempt to Hamilton’s lead to 16-10.
Hamilton scored on its first drive of the third quarter. With Castillo out, Masoli punted the ball on a third-down gamble. Banks was onside and recovered the ball and Hamilton running back Alex Green scored on a one-yard rush three plays later, giving the Tiger-Cats a 22-10 advantage.
Green finished with 97 yards on 20 carries.
Medlock added a 38-yard field to make it 22-13.
Masoli’s second touchdown pass of the game went to receiver Luke Tasker on a three-yard throw. Masoli found Tasker on the ensuing two-point convert attempt to make it 30-13.