Post-COVID Spring CFL Returns to the Gridiron in the Hammer

“That’s CFL football,” exclaimed one fan as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Montreal Alouettes 25-23 in the first spring football game at Tim Horton’s Field this decade.

The game came to a crazy end, with five plays, resulting in 11 points and two lead changes, in the final 25 seconds of the game. It was all capped by a 35-yard field goal by Tadhg Leader as time expired.

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With the Alouettes trailing 22-15 and time running down, quarterback Davis Alexander was able to cap off a 70-yard drive that started with 2:40 left on the clock, punching a keeper into the end zone for a major with 25 ticks remaining. Deciding to forego the game-tying extra point, Montreal elected to go for what could presumably be a game-winning two-point conversion.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats run onto the field before their preseason game against Montreal

Alexander threw a strike to Krishawan Hogan who had posted up just inside the end zone, giving the Als a 23-22 lead with 15 seconds left on the clock. Hogan had 11 grabs on the night, for 102 yards.

The convert completed a strong passing night for the four men who played pivot for the Als as Montreal went 37 of 46 in the air, good for 363 yards, one major and no turnovers. The Tiger-Cats secondary made plenty of big hits, but seemed to still be ironing out coverages.

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One errant pass, seemingly destined to be a pick-off, fell to the ground as two Tabby defenders battled each other for possession. After a 17-yard kickoff return following the Alouettes’ late-game go-ahead two-point toss, the Cats had 10 seconds left.

Starting on their own 41, a heave from Jamie Newman intended for Donnell Williams fell to the ground but resulted in a pretty obvious pass interference call on Montreal’s Robert Hayes, Jr. The penalty was worth 41-yards to Hamilton with the ball placed on the Montreal 28 yard line.

The field goal unit came on and Leader nailed the game-winner as time expired. As the Tiger-cats stormed the field, sending the faithful back onto the streets of the Hammer with smiling faces and chants of “Oskee wee wee.” The residents of the red brick homes at the intersection of Balsam and Beechwood joined in the banter.

In a post-game interview, Hamilton Coach Orlando Steinhauer echoed the fan quoted earlier in this piece, telling his players, particularly those without prior experience in the league, that the game exemplified CFL football, “you have to play until the last play.”

The soon-to-be inducted member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame also pointed to a couple of hard things, first “it’s hard to win,” he said, noting that’s why all games, including those in the preseason, matter.  

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“It’s the hardest part of my job,” Steinhauer said, in referencing the other difficulty, namely making the roster cuts necessary the day after the game.

Besides a thrilling last-second home team victory in a tightly-contested ball game, Tiger-Cats fans had plenty to celebrate on a spring night on the grounds near the former Ivor Wynne Stadium. 

The post-Covid return of spring football brought out all the pomp and pageantry of CFL and Ti-Cats football.

After the third quarter, Pigskin Pete and the Ticats Cheer and Dance Team led the good-sized preseason crowd in a loud Oskee Wee Wee chant, as the “eat ’em raw flag” waved on one side of the stadium and a massive “Hamilton Proud” banner traversed the other grandstand.

Pigskin Pete, Hamilton Tiger-Cats – John Rennison / The Hamilton Spectator

When the time came for the traditional singing of “Sweet Caroline,” it seemed every soul in the stands joined along.  The familiar “Box J boys” ensemble was being worn on-site for a spring home game for the first time since 2019. Children attending their first CFL tussle asked parents questions to get a better introduction to some of the key terms in the gridiron game.

Back on the field, another highlight for Ticats fans was the play of Alden Darby who had four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, drawing rave reviews post-game.

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The last time Darby was on Tim Horton’s Field, he was working against the black and gold as a member of the Grey Cup Champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The praise was mutual as Darby noted how special a place Hamilton is and how he’s pleased to be a Cat.

The Ticats will travel down the QEW to face the Double Blue for their final preseason contest Friday, before opening on the road in Riderville.  They return home on June 18 to face Calgary.

Montreal will end its exhibition schedule Friday also, hosting Ottawa, before travelling to Calgary to kick off the regular season on June 9.


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