The Hamilton Tiger-Cats can be poker-faced about Dane Evans’ hand, now that they have a place at the playoff table across from their old buddy Trevor Harris.
The Tiger-Cats’ quarterback picture after Evans was injured during the fourth quarter of Hamilton’s home finale could be cloudy, with a chance of mindgames from head coach Orlondo Steinauer. The Tiger-Cats (7-10) will face the host Montréal Alouettes (8-9) in an East Division semifinal on Nov. 6, in two weeks after the results this weekend shook in their favour. The Toronto Argonauts (11-6) will get the winner on Nov. 13 in the East final, which decides a spot in the Grey Cup (Nov. 20, Regina).
It will be the fourth season in a row that the Tiger-Cats have faced Harris in the playoffs, with three different teams. This season, they have lost both of their games at Montréal after having the lead at the three-minute warning in the fourth quarter.
Hamilton clinched a playoff berth Saturday night when the Calgary Stampeders (11-6) won 32-21 against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-11), who had hope of becoming a cross-over team in the East bracket. Earlier, Toronto defeated Montréal 24-23 to settle the East race.
The Tiger-Cats, who are 4-1 over their last five games, got in clinching position by defeating the Ottawa Redblacks 30-27 on Friday. Backup quarterback Matthew Shiltz directed the last two Tiger-Cats’ scoring drives, including one to set up Seth Small’s walk-off field goal. Evans had left the game after injuring his right throwing hand while diving for a first down. Steinauer told on-site media that Evans was being “evaluated.”
The results mean Hamilton’s return game in Ottawa on Oct. 29 is a nothing game in the standings, and Evans and other frontline players could be held out of action to avoid injury exposure. The Alouettes and Argonauts will be in the same boat with their key players for their game that day.
Montréal already had a home playoff game locked down due to winning the season series with Hmailton 2-1, with the home team winning every time. On Sept. 23, the Alouettes won 23-16 when Harris and cohorts drove for a winning touchdown and two-point convert with 1:42 to play.
Five weeks earlier, with Shiltz passing for a season-best 303 yards while starting in place of an injured Evans, the Tiger-Cats had a game effort during a last-play 29-28 defeat. David Côté kicked a 48-yard game-winner after Harris made full use of the 37 seconds left on the clock after Small made his own pressure kick from 51 yards.
Since then, Hamilton has righted a foundering ship. The turnaround started with a 48-point outburst against the powerhouse Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It also included home wins against Saskatchewan and Ottawa that were sandwiched around a win at Calgary that snapped a nearly two-decade road drought in that city.
The Tiger-Cats faced Harris in the playoffs in 2018, ’19 and ’21, with the QB passing for more than 300 yards each time. (The CFL went dark in 2020 during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many major sports either used a “bubble” format or limited in-person attendance.)
The home team has won all three. This time around, the Tiger-Cats will be on the road. Historically, Hamilton is 2-11 all-time as a road team in the division semifinal stage. Both times, they lost in the East final following the first-round road win.
In 2021, the Tiger-Cats beat the Alouettes 23-12 in the East semifinal. Harris passed for 364 yards, but his offence was held to one touchdown.
In the 2019 East final, the Tiger-Cats routed Harris-helmed Edmonton 36-16. Evans outpassed Harris 386-319 and the latter tossed two interceptions, including one by current Hamilton defender Richard Leonard.
That avenged the ’18 East final, when Harris hummed a CFL playoff-record six touchdown passes to spur Ottawa’s 46-27 blowout win of Hamilton. Harris was 29-of-32 for 367 yards. Evans was the backup to Jeremiah Masoli.
Since then, the Tiger-Cats have made it to the Grey Cup in 2019 and ’21, after first- and second-place finishes. Also since then, Ottawa is 2-22 at TD Place and is on an 11-game home losing streak. The longest active home-victory drought, though, belongs to the Edmonton Elks, who are at 17 in a row.
The only home win by either team since the start of the pandemic was in Week 9 of 2021. On Sept. 28, the Redblacks won 34-24 against, perhaps not surprisingly, the Elks.