HAMILTON — With a first place finish in the CFL’s east division and a bye to the east final secured, the Tiger-Cats added a franchise record 13th win to their stellar season, at home Saturday.
Hamilton (13-3) defeated the last place Ottawa Redblacks 33-12, led by quarterback Dane Evans who finished with a career-high 452-yards passing, one touchdown and one interception at Tim Hortons Field.
Evans’ final stat line did not reveal his poor start highlighted by that pick on just the 25-year-old’s fifth pass of the contest to Redblacks’ (3-13) defensive back De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes.
Despite the two teams’ contrast in play this season, the Ti-Cats held only a three point lead going into halftime and struggled to score offensively.
“There were some missed assignments on offence and I didn’t play particularly well in the first half,” said Evans, in his post-game media availability. “But you know what’s great, when the coaches came in you’d except them to yell and swear.
“They actually didn’t, they were calm and just told us we need to play our game and that’s all it took to get us to respond.
“We put on a show in the second half.”
Hamilton outscored Ottawa 21-3 in the final 30, a performance that had head coach Orlondo Steinauer gratified.
“I’m proud of our mental toughness,” said Steinauer. “It was a battle out there and we didn’t play our best brand of football in that first half. There was lots of opportunities to fold when things weren’t going our way.
“They made some big plays but so did we — guys stepped up.”
Cats’ receiver Brandon Banks launched himself into the franchise’s record books as well.
Banks became the third in team history to reach 100 receptions in a season while setting a new career-best, but it was catch 101 which leaves the 31-year-old three off the single-season mark held by Luke Tasker that had both the fans and his teammates buzzing.
The Garner, NC., native adjusted his route and positioning to make an over the shoulder grab for the 64-yard touchdown catch-and-run, that gave the Ti-Cats a 14-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
“I love when Speedy B does that because he’s always right,” said Evans. “When he improvises on the fly it’s fantastic to see.
“That’s why he’s one of the best.”
Although the accolades for Banks continue to pile up, the former Washington Redskin knows he’s missing just one thing.
“I worked hard to get these accomplishments but like I said at the beginning of the season none of this means anything if I don’t have a Grey Cup ring,” said Banks, who finished with seven receptions, 116-yards and a touchdown in Week 19.
“I don’t have anything to prove too nobody—a lot of people know what I can do so I just want this ring. It’s an honour to be among the greats though.”
Hamilton will travel east to face off against a potential playoff foe, the Montreal Alouettes (9-7), before returning home for the season finale against the rival Toronto Argonauts.
“We’ll discuss how we approach what’s next as a staff,” said Steinauer, asked about the next week and the rest of the season. “We know our opponent well but we’ll wait and see. I want our players to enjoy this win — it’s not easy to win at this level.
“We’ll continue to juggle rest, rust and health.”