HAMILTON -- Turnovers typically are a pivotal statistic in football, especially come playoff time.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the best team in the CFL East in turnover ratio (plus-13) during the regular season -- and they came through in that category again in their playoff opener on Sunday.
The Ticats scored 13 points off three Montreal Alouettes turnovers in the second quarter after a slow start, sending the home side on its way to a 23-12 victory in the CFL East semifinal before 21,892 chilly fans sitting through light snow at Tim Hortons Field.
The Ticats, who won the turnover battle 5-0. are now one victory away from playing in the Grey Cup on their home field on Dec. 12.
They’ll travel to Toronto on Dec. 5 to face the Argonauts in the first Battle-of-the-QEW East final since 2013. It will mark just the third Toronto-Hamilton East final since 1986.
— CFL (@CFL) November 28, 2021
On Sunday, some excellent work by the Ticats defensive line resulted in two fumbles by Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris in the second quarter. An interception by Stavros Katsantonis then led to a last-play field goal in the first half as the Ticats scored 20 answered points to go up 20-3.
Not only did the Ticats get to Harris, they limited Alouettes star running back William Stanback to 19 yards on nine carries in the first half. The CFL’s East most outstanding player nominee finished with just 29 rushing yards.
The Ticats’ defensive front four was the game’s best unit. Ja’Gared Davis, Ted Laurent, Dylan Wynn and Julian Howsare all made big plays in the run and passing game.
With the Alouettes threatening to go 104 yards for a touchdown on a lengthy opening drive, Davis stuffed Stanback in the backfield to force a short David Cote field goal -- a big moral victory for the Ticats.
Those were the only points in a first quarter in which the Alouettes had the ball for 11:34 as Ticats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was off target, completing zero passes.
Early in the second quarter, the Ticats D-Line struck again for the big momentum changer. Pressure by Wynn and a strip by Laurent led to a Harris fumble that was picked up and returned 45 yards by Howsare.
Two plays later, Masoli found Brandon Banks for a 20-yard TD strike and the Ticats were off to the races.
Don Jackson added a six-yard rushing major on the Ticats’ next possession and then Davis caused another Harris fumble, leading to Michael Domagala’s first of two second-quarter field goals.
After Harris got the Als back within 10 on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Eugene Lewis, the Ticats defence stood tall. An excellent open-field tackle by CFL East defensive player of the year Simoni Lawrence on Harris and a sack by Howsare ended Als’ drives.
Later, while trailing 20-10 in the fourth, the Als appeared to catch a huge break as Ticats returner Papi White fumbled a punt -- but it was overturned on review because of no yards. A third Domagala field goal made it 23-10.
The Als’ fourth turnover -- on downs after driving to the Hamilton nine-yard line with less than two minutes left -- essentially sealed the win for the Ticats.
While much improved under second-year coach Khari Jones after a lean stretch, the Als have now lost in the East semi the past two seasons. Montreal has the longest playoff drought in the CFL, having not won a post-season game since 2014.
The Ticats, meanwhile, are back in the East final for the second time in as many seasons under coach Orlondo Steinauer. Hamilton lost to Winnipeg in the 2019 Grey Cup after a 15-3 regular season.
Now, Hamilton sports fans can look forward to a big weekend. The Toronto Rock have relocated to Hamilton and play their National Lacrosse League home opener next Saturday before the Ticats face the Argos and Forge FC goes for a Canadian Premier League three-peat at home against Pacific FC the following day.
It’s not quite as fun a time in Montreal, where the Canadiens fired general manager Marc Bergevin as the Als were on the way to having their season come to an end on Sunday.