Aside from home-field advantage, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats do not appear to have the edge in too many categories heading into Sunday’s Grey Cup against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
However, that doesn’t mean the Ticats (8-6 in the regular season) can’t turn the tables on the Blue Bombers (11-3) in a rematch of the last CFL championship game – won 33-12 by Winnipeg in 2019.
The Ticats will need to play better than they did in their two playoff wins over the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts if they hope to beat what was easily the CFL’s best team this year.
Here’s a look at how Hamilton can pull off the upset:
If the Ticats do not shoot themselves in the foot, their chances go up dramatically.
Turnovers have been a major problem for Hamilton in its two most recent meetings against the Bombers.
Winnipeg won the turnover battle 8-1 in the 2019 Grey Cup and 3-0 in this year’s season opener against the visiting Ticats.
The Blue Bombers had the best turnover ratio in the league this year (plus-18), five ahead of the second-place Ticats – so both teams know how vital this statistic can be.
Ticats coach Orlondo Steinauer gave a quick hook to quarterback Jeremiah Masoli last week against Toronto when he held on to the ball too long and committed a bad fumble on a promising drive. It was a loud and clear message that the Ticats bench boss won’t tolerate giveaways.
STAY STRONG AGAINST THE RUN
The Ticats’ defensive front has been excellent in the playoffs.
CFL league-leading rusher William Stanback of the Alouettes had just 29 rushing yards in the East semifinal and then the Ticats held Argos running back D.J. Foster to 38 yards on 11 carries last week.
That trend must continue against the Blue Bombers, who have been successful running the ball versus Hamilton.
Bombers star Andrew Harris was the Grey Cup MVP in 2019 after rushing for 134 yards. Then, in this year’s opener, with Harris injured, backup Brady Oliveira chewed up 126 yards on the ground versus Hamilton.
If the Ticats can’t make adjustments to slow down the Bombers’ ground game, they face long odds to hoist the Grey Cup at home for the first time since 1972.
DO NOT SETTLE FOR FIELD GOALS
If it becomes a kicking battle, the Ticats likely are in trouble.
Hamilton has struggled for much of the year in this department. Last week, Michael Domagala missed his first extra point and then the Ticats tried (and missed) a two-point convert after tying the game at 12-12 – which isn’t a traditional decision when a kicker is consistent.
The Bombers also had kicking issues this year, but acquired Sergio Castillo in an October trade with the B.C. Lions, who had the former NFL kicker’s CFL rights.
Castillo was a 2019 CFL all-star after making 41-of-45 field-goal attempts (91.1 per cent) with B.C., including five of 50 yards or more.
Castillo is 7-of-9 for Winnipeg this year.
MORE GREAT DANE
Quarterback Dane Evans was superb in relief of Masoli last week, completing all 16 pass attempts for 249 yards as Hamilton rallied from a 12-0 halftime deficit.
The question is can he maintain that form?
Evans was excellent in the Ticats’ run to the Grey Cup game in 2019 after Masoli got hurt, but then was 16-for-27 for 209 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the championship game against Winnipeg.
Masoli regained his starting job this year and Evans battled injury and inconsistency most of the season before stepping up in a huge way against Toronto.
The quarterback battle pits the up-and-down Evans against Zach Collaros, the heavy favourite to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award on Friday.
Evans is one of many Ticats looking for redemption against the Bombers.
EMBRACE THE UNDERDOG ROLE
Favourites haven’t fared well recently in the Grey Cup.
The team with the worse record has won three of the past four title tilts, including Winnipeg’s win over a previously dominant Hamilton team in 2019.
And of course, there’s no better place to be an underdog than at home. The Ticats are 5-1 all-time in playoff games at Tim Hortons Field.
When a home team has been in the Grey Cup game, it has won in the past three attempts (Saskatchewan 2013, Toronto 2012, B.C. 2011).
These are good stats for the Ticats as they attempt to break the CFL’s longest active Grey Cup drought, with Hamilton’s last title coming in 1999.