Dan LeFevour and the Tiger-Cats ran over Montreal Saturday.It wasn't the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' most impressive performance of the season, but it was a crucial one. The Tiger-Cats made their first successful fourth-quarter comeback of the year (a fact noted on Twitter by team owner/caretaker Bob Young) and then survived a late Montreal rally to edge the Alouettes 28-26 Saturday in the Touchdown Atlantic game in Moncton. With the victory, Hamilton is now 6-6 on the year and solidly ahead of 4-8 Montreal for second in the East, and if the 7-4 Argonauts fall to Calgary in Saturday night's game, the Tiger-Cats would only be a single game back of first place. There are plenty of questions to be asked in Hamilton despite the victory here, though, as this was far from an overwhelming victory.
The Tiger-Cats' offence in particular needs to come up with some answers after this one. Quarterback Henry Burris had perhaps his worst game of the year, completing just 15 of 27 pass attempts (55.6 per cent) for 176 yards, and the ground game wasn't much better, with running back C.J. Gable collecting just 29 yards on seven carries (4.1 yards per carry). The team was often forced to settle for field goals, and a crucial part of their victory only came because rookie kicker Brett Lauther converted all four of his attempts (and holder Andy Fantuz and blocker Marc Beswick brilliantly faked another field goal near the goal line, with Beswick rushing in for a touchdown off a shovel pass from Fantuz instead). The main bright spot offensively came from rookie quarterback Dan LeFevour, who was once again subbed in for Burris in certain packages and produced a game-high 62 rushing yards and a critical late touchdown on nine carries (a 6.9 yards per carry average). However, LeFevour didn't throw a pass, and if teams clue in that he's mostly in there to rush himself or hand off to a back, that may not consistently move the chains either.
The Hamilton defence does deserve some plaudits, particularly for what they did on the ground. They held Montreal running back Jerome Messam to just 31 yards on nine carries (a gain of 3.4 yards per carry), and that was with a long run of 16 yards included; most of the day, they stuffed Messam near the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. They also held their own when Alouettes' backup quarterback Troy Smith came in and tried to show off his rushing abilities; Smith collected just eight yards on four carries. However, the Tiger-Cats' defence proved vulnerable through the air, with Josh Neiswander picking them apart for 294 yards and two touchdowns with a 72.2 per cent completion mark. Some of that was thanks to great play from Neiswander and his receivers, most notably Duron Carter (nine catches, several of which were spectacular, for 112 yards and a touchdown) and S.J. Green (four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown), but there were plenty of mistakes from the Hamilton secondary on display as well.
Overall, this is still a notable win for the Tiger-Cats. While they seemed to have more fans in Moncton than the Alouettes and were technically the home team, this was more of a neutral-site game played in unfamiliar conditions, and that's not an easy task. Moreover, this represented better competition than most of their victories this season; three of their five wins before this came against 2-10 Winnipeg, with a fourth narrow victory coming against 3-9 Edmonton (who they also lost to). (The fifth, and most impressive, was a 39-27 win over 7-4 B.C. at home.) The win solidifies their hold on second place in the division and its associated potential home playoff date, and it may even keep them in contention for first in the East. Moreover, Hamilton did a lot of solid things here, particularly on rushing defence and special teams. However, this team's substantial flaws were still on display Saturday. The Tiger-Cats will undoubtedly take the win, but they'll have to get better if they really want to contend with the CFL's best this season.