Hamilton receiver Andy Fantuz (L) botched the hold at the end of Saturday's game.The defining memory from Saturday's snow-covered game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Calgary Stampeders is going to be its final play. Needing a win to keep control of their playoff destiny, the Tiger-Cats were all set to pull it off, giving Luca Congi (one of the CFL's most accurate kickers these season thanks to his 91.4 per cent success rate) a 30-yard field goal for the victory. Receiver Andy Fantuz botched the hold, though, Congi wasn't able to get the kickoff and Fantuz was tackled before he could do anything else with the ball, allowing Calgary to come away with a 34-32 victory. However, while Fantuz's mistake was critical (and right up there with other famous blown holds, such as Jimmy Jones in the 1975 Grey Cup and Tony Romo in the 2006-07 NFL playoffs) this shouldn't be all on him; Hamilton had plenty of other chances to win this one, and their failures at those moments matter too.
One of the most crucial mistakes came just a minute earlier. The Tiger-Cats pulled out a great late drive, and Chevon Walker raced in for a touchdown that put them within two points with just 1:10 left. Hamilton smartly went for a two-point conversion, but that was about the only intelligent thing they did on the play; instead of a run or a short pass, quarterback Henry Burris lobbed a long, high pass through the uprights into double coverage at the back of the end zone, and he overthrew his receiver, causing it to land out of bounds. It was one of the worst two-point conversions I'd ever seen (a conclusion that's received support elsewhere), and it threw away their best chance of tying the game. Fantuz was only in position to fail thanks to the Tiger-Cats' excellent recovery of an onside kick, but if they'd made a smarter play on their two-point conversion attempt, they could have booted it deep and played for overtime instead.
There was another chance to win it without a field goal immediately afterwards. Burris hit Chris Williams in full stride down the sideline, and Williams would have been gone for a touchdown if he'd managed to stay in bounds. He stepped out, though, and that meant Hamilton had to try the field goal. Of course, it can be argued that a touchdown there might have left Calgary too much time to try and grab a touchdown of their own, but quickly driving the length of the field in less than a minute in this kind of weather's extremely difficult, and a field goal in these kinds of snowy conditions isn't a guarantee in its own right. There were pluses and minuses to Williams going out of bounds there, but the odds might have favoured going for the touchdown. Even under ideal conditions, Congi was making only slightly more than 9 out of 10 field goals, so he'd miss about one in every ten tries. The chances of Calgary going the length of the field for a touchdown were probably worse than 1 in 10, and this certainly wasn't an ideal kicking situation.
The turnovers the Tiger-Cats committed throughout the game certainly hurt as well. Burris threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two interceptions (one of which Keon Raymond returned 100 yards for a touchdown), and Bakari Grant lost a fumble. Of course, that paled in comparison next to Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn's four interceptions and the Stampeders' three fumbles, but Hamilton couldn't take full advantage of those mistakes either. This wasn't a bad game overall for the Tiger-Cats, and they had plenty of chances to win it, but the majority of those chances weren't tied to a last-second field goal.
The loss puts Hamilton in a rough spot approaching the playoffs. The Tiger-Cats are now 5-11 on the year and in fourth place in the East (they share Winnipeg's record, but have already lost the season series against the Bombers). To get in, the Tiger-Cats have to win both of their last two games (they host Winnipeg, then are at Toronto). They also need the Edmonton Eskimos to lose their final two games (at Montreal, hosting Calgary). If Edmonton picks up a single win, they secure a crossover berth to the East and Hamilton and Winnipeg are out of luck. Thus, the odds are against the Tiger-Cats. They didn't have to be, as a win here would have let them keep their destiny in their own hands, and they had plenty of chances to pull one off. Don't put this all on a failed hold, though; while that was the final blow, Hamilton could have won well before that.
Correction: This post originally said Hamilton's already lost the season series to Toronto. In fact, they trail it 2-1, and could still win if they beat the Argonauts by more than eight points in their regular-season finale. Thus, the Ticats could conceivably grab second in the East if the Argos lose to Saskatchewan next week and then lose to them by nine or more in the final game.