Sports

GREY CUP

Despite the loss, Ticats have bright future in Collaros

By Frank Zicarelli, Toronto Sun

VANCOUVER — So close and yet so far away, the Ticats had a chance to win their first Grey Cup since 1999, a game coincidentally played at BC Place against Calgary.

Danny McManus was the Grey Cup quarterback at the time, the franchise coming off a season in which it fell short in the CFL’s marquee game.

The Ticats may yet have their time to bask in Grey Cup glory and it’ll be Zach Collaros who gives this franchise its best chance to emerge as champions.

That time may come sooner than later.

For now and for the foreseeable future, the bitterness won’t easily fade, the Ticats coming within a Brandon Banks punt return for a touchdown of winning the Grey Cup, only to have Banks’ 90-yarder called back on a penalty.

Whether it was playcalling, scheming that didn’t lead to a lot of pressure, penalties, an inability to finish off drives, the Ticats will have plenty to mull over, a game of what ifs to be played in the coming days, weeks and perhaps even months, a game that was there for the taking, a game that ended with a 20-16 Calgary win.

It was a game that would end in controversy and conjecture.

Banks fled the locker room once the doors opened, refusing to stop and field questions.

The kid was hot, but he wasn’t alone.

Penalties didn’t go Hamilton’s way, but they also looked very tentative in the opening 30 minutes, the offence unable to score a single point in the third quarter and then came the drama of the fourth, the questions and so little answers.

“Despite how the game ended, there were opportunities out there for us to win,’’ said starting offensive tackle Brian Simmons.

Those words should resonate because it’s the reason why the Ticats ultimately lost.

The defining play was the Banks’ return touchdown that didn’t stand, the one people will talk about and debate Taylor Reed’s penalty.

Lost is how Hamilton fell behind 17-7 at halftime, the leading growing by three as the Ticats were forced to come back from a 20-7 hole in the game’s final 15 minutes.

There was no pressure applied in the first half and while the defence yielded only three second-half points, the damage was done.

A blocked field in the first half cost the Ticats three easy points as well.

Offensively, too much run plays and not enough run/option sequences with the ball in Collaros’ hands when touchdowns were needed and not field goals, especially in the red zone.

Collaros was strong in the pocket, cool and composed, focused and completely oblivious to the pressure in this his second post-season start.

When they were driving late with the potential to tie the game and perhaps force overtime, protection broke down.

As well as Bo Levi Mitchell played, his poorly thrown attempt that led to an interception would provide the game with its long-awaited moment of drama.

Grey Cup drama has been lacking in recent years, but with 5:35 left in the fourth quarter, it was Calgary clinging to a 20-13 lead.

But that pick into the arms of Delvin Breaux turned the game, only it was Hamilton’s inability to close the deal that proved lethal.

“I didn’t feel at any point that we were struggling,’’ said Collaros. “We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had. We dug ourselves a hole.”

Collaros knew the Ticats had a shot, despite the obstacles.

When they settled for a field goal in the final quarter, some will question the Ticats’ decision to kick the field goal rather than gamble and go for a touchdown.

Collaros wasn’t buying it.

“Obviously I would never second guess our coaching staff,’’ said Collaros. “I think I would have done the same thing if I was calling the shots ... But I’m sure people will be writing about it.”

And they will just like people will be writing about the touchdown that was, but was called back.

The Ticats played well, but not well enough.

The Stamps didn’t look like the same offence once Mitchell made a throw he shouldn’t have made, a terrible read in a zone coverage Breaux easily intercepted.

The narrative changes had Mitchell exercised better judgment, the Stamps likely to coast home to a victory.

“It was big,’’ said Collaros of the Breaux pick. “It was definitely big. Any time you get a momentum shift like that, especially off of a turnover on the opposite side of the 50 it’s huge.”

It would turn out to be the game’s only turnover.

“I haven’t seen the film yet, but I don’t think we played a bad game. We just didn’t score touchdowns,’’ said Collaros.

REED TAKES BLAME

VANCOUVER — Taylor Reed faced the music and took full responsibility for a penalty that in effect cost the Tiger-Cats a Grey Cup.

One penalty and one long off-season to ponder its consequence, Reed didn’t deflect any blame, directing it entirely on to himself, which speaks a lot to this young man’s character and sense of accountability.

“Of course I feel bad,’’ said Reed in a sombre Hamilton locker room. “That was the go-ahead. It sucks that they (officials) called my number. I couldn’t do a better job of helping him out.”

When asked if he felt responsible on the sequence that wiped out a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown by Brandon Banks with 35 seconds remaining in what would turn out to be a 20-16 Ticats loss, Reed didn’t mince his words.

“Yeah, of course. Like I said, you (reporters) asked me about that play and I made it too close for the refs. The refs made the call they felt was right and that’s my fault. Whether it was close or not, right or wrong, I hurt my team. I hurt Speedy (Banks). It could have been a win and to have it taken away like that, it hurts. It just makes you want to work even harder this off-season.”

Banks bolted out of the locker room almost as fast as he hauled in the punt and raced down the field for an apparent touchdown. Instead he had his second major called back in two post-season games.

There was a lot of raw emotion inside the Ticats locker room and not many wanted to talk about the penalty, an illegal block made by Reed, a rookie who has emerged as a key piece at middle linebacker.

“When a loss happens people tend to focus at the end, but there was a lot that happened in the beginning,’’ said Brian Simmons, a class act who helps anchor Hamilton’s offensive line. “I’m not going to lie. This one hurts. It hurts more than any game I’ve ever played in.

“That’s a great football team over there, but they know like I know how the game ended. And that’s all I’m going to say.”


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