HAMILTON — The host Tiger-Cats had Tim Hortons Field partying like it’s 1999 Friday night.
Both on and off the field.
With members of the ’99 Grey Cup team in attendance and around the organization for the entire week, Hamilton (12-3) matched a franchise record for wins in a season with a dominant 42-12 win over the Edmonton Eskimos.
Cats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer, a member of that team two decades ago, outlined a surprisingly difficult lead up to the matchup with the Eskimos (7-8).
“Having the ’99 team here this week was a challenge for our team,” said Steinauer. “We tried to emphasize focus because there was a lot of distraction — but good distractions. It’s about execution on the field and I’m proud with how we played tonight.
“Our players enjoyed it.”
As halftime saw another member of the 99 defence, Hamilton’s own Rob Hitchcock become the 24th member of the Ti-Cats wall of honour, his former teammate looked for more from his team.
“Our half-time message was to be better,” said Steinhauer, as his club led 19-3 during the break. “Our defence held them to field goals and our offence executed but I just thought we could’ve executed better.
“Proud of our response in the second half there.”
The Cats would outscore the Esks by 14 in the second half led by the consistent play of their quarterback Dane Evans, who finished with two touchdowns and 277 yards passing.
Evans has gone 6-2 with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his second CFL season since taking over in Week 7 for the injured Jeremiah Masoli who is out for the year with an ACL injury,.
The 25-year-old has learned quickly under centre and was happy to outline the lessons he took from his time during the 20th anniversary reunion festivities.
“It’s great being around greatness,” said Evans, in his post-game media availability. “The stories they had I can’t repeat but it’s like they’ve been in the locker room all year.
“Live in the moment and seize the opportunity is what I took from them.”
Late in the fourth quarter as the Ti-Cats were on their way to victory, 23,411 in attendance were treated to a spectacular play that capped of the marquee win.
Richard Leonard juggled a bobbled pass, corralled the ball, then flew into the end zone untouched for the 19-yard pick-six, his second interception of the contest.
“I was just happy we got the win,” said Leonard. “We ran off a big score and it was perfect with that pick-six at the end.
“After the bye week we’re going to get it going again.”
As Hamilton enjoys its final break of the season, their position en route to their Grey Cup quest could be sealed when they host the Ottawa Redblacks in two weeks.
With a Montreal Alouettes loss to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday, the Cats would clinch the East Division title and the opportunity to earn a spot in the Grey Cup final at home.
“We will never focus on that as long as I’m standing at this podium,” he said. “We’ll always be focused on the next game.”