For the first 30 minutes, Thursday’s contest between the Tiger-Cats and Stampeders looked like something totally unexpected: a low-scoring defensive battle.
The Week 7 contest had been billed in the lead-up as an offensive carnival in the making, with Henry Burris and Kevin Glenn leading two of the most exciting units in the CFL.
But in conditions that began rainy and ended merely damp, the fireworks were never lit on either end of the sidelines. The first quarter came and passed without a single point gracing the scoreboard as both offences misfired in equal measure.
The offences took their first tentative steps in the second quarter as the rains subsided and the field around them began to dry.
The Tiger-Cats broke the goose egg with a penalty-aided touchdown drive, finishing the move with an uncontested fading pass to rookie running back Chevon Walker. Despite his well-publicized success thus far this season, Walker reeled in the major score without a defender in sight.
Burris spoke of the play as a success due to a combination of proper play calling and Walker’s unique physical gifts that cause teams to devote extra defensive attention to him.
“We gameplan that play, and they ran the defence that we wanted to have on that play,” said Burris of the touchdown connection. “[Walker] does a great job in terms of getting open, but with his speed, he’s able to get behind anybody. So that’s usually why whenever he runs routes, they have to pay attention to him with two guys.”
Hamilton’s defence had eliminated the ‘big play’ in the opening quarter, but fell victim to one to see their lead pegged back in the second. Calgary rusher Jon Cornish broke free for a 20-yard touchdown rumble to even the score at seven.
The Tiger-Cats tacked a late field goal onto the board to conclude a rare low-scoring half at Ivor Wynne with a 13-10 advantage.
The complexion of the game would change drastically following the interval. The attacking teams so often advertised before kickoff suddenly arrived on the scene.
Tiger-Cats Head Coach George Cortez dismissed the notion that the game’s evolution was a result of halftime adjustments on the part of either coaching staff.
“Halftime adjustments are overrated,” said Cortez. “The coaches talk about what we haven’t done and what we need to do in the second half. Or we talk about what we did well and didn’t do enough of in the first half. Sometimes things change because of the execution.”
The Stampeders pounced on an early Chris Williams fumble in the third quarter, but were held to a field goal despite taking possession deep in the Tiger-Cats’ end.
Henry Burris immediately looked to punish that stutter on the ensuing drive, patching together a string of long completions to Williams, Dave Stala and Andy Fantuz to threaten the end zone.
But a procedure penalty leveled against Marc Dile reversed course, and the Tiger-Cats were forced to settle for three points.
Burris admitted that small mistakes proved costly late in the game.
“Once I settled down and we started to get some things going, some of those inconsistencies came back to haunt us, as far as not putting together consistent plays and having success,” said Burris. “Whether it was drops, me throwing a bad ball or procedure, those things negated drives.”
Things appeared bright for the home side when they retook the lead through a highlight reel moment.
Walker added to his second quarter haul with a thrilling run to cap the third. The rookie rusher burst through Calgary’s front line with a touch of his trademark quickness and beat out the secondary to notch a 47-yard score.
The effort tied him for first in the CFL with his seventh touchdown of the season. Unfortunately, it would also mark the final points that the Tiger-Cats would score on Thursday.
While the result slipped from their grasp, the Ticats enjoyed an encouraging performance from a first-time player.
Simon Charbonneau-Campeau entered the contest in the third quarter after an injury to slotback Andy Fantuz. The rookie receiver – placed in the unfamiliar slot position – would make three catches to close out the game with 45 yards to his name in his CFL debut.
Cortez spoke of the rookie’s effort as a positive first step toward what he believes could be a very bright future.
“He had three catches, so he did okay,” said the Ticat coach. “He played a position that he didn’t practice in. He’s got a good future, and we think that he’s going to turn into a good football player.”
In the meantime however, Charbonneau-Campeau and his teammates will have to heed the lessons that his quarterback drew from Thursday’s match up.
“This is a learning experience for us,” said Burris. “As a team that’s young and coming together to be consistent week-in and week-out, that’s what we’ve been preaching.”