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Jeremiah Masoli and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats punched their playoff ticket Friday night and left the B.C. Lions with only one path to the CFL post-season.
Masoli completed 19-of-26 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown as Hamilton held on to defeat the B.C. Lions 26-18 and cement an East Division playoff spot.
The Ticats (7-5-0) registered their third straight win and eliminated the threat of a crossover before a Tim Hortons Field crowd of 21,618.
And that sets up a crucial matchup versus archrival Toronto (7-4-0) at BMO Field on Friday night.
The Argonauts visit the Ottawa Redblacks (2-10-0) on Saturday night, but lead the head-to-head series with Hamilton 2-1 and that's the first tiebreaker should the two teams end the year tied in the standings.
"I can't wait," Masoli said. "It's exciting, for sure.
"You love football games that have a lot on the line like that. You're going to get their best and it will be one of those games and so I'm looking forward to it."
But for B.C. (4-8-0), the only path into the playoffs is a top-three finish in the West Division. The Lions, who've lost six straight, trail the idle Calgary Stampeders (6-6-0) sitting third in the West.
B.C. also lost to an East Division opponent for a second straight week.
The Lions dropped a 31-29 overtime contest to Toronto last week after kicker Jimmy Camacho missed three fourth-quarter field goals. That landed Camacho on the practice roster with American Nick Vogel handling kicking duties.
Vogel pulled B.C. to within 19-12 with a 33-yard field goal at 3:39 of the fourth, but Hamilton countered with Sean Thomas Erlington's four-yard TD run at 7:00 for a 26-12 advantage.
Lions starter Mike Reilly's one-yard touchdown run with 1:18 remaining cut Hamilton's lead to 26-18.
Vogel missed the convert and appeared to suffer a leg cramp, forcing punter Stefan Flintoft to do the onside kick as Hamilton maintained possession with 1:16 to play.
B.C. did get the ball back at its own 49-yard line with 39 seconds remaining. Reilly's Hail Mary pass into the Hamilton end zone _ with Dominique Rhymes the lone Lion surrounded by a host of Hamilton defenders _ on the final play fell incomplete.
The appearance of only one B.C. receiver on the final play was certainly puzzling, but Reilly said the Lions battled confusion throughout the contest.
"From the first drive to the last our headsets were (expletive)," he said. "We got a garbled mess 95 per cent of the time and that's not good enough, it's not acceptable . . . somebody has to figure out what the issue was and get it fixed.
"At the end . . . we were trying to potentially get a quick throw so we could get a huddle called and get multiple guys into the end zone, but again because the radio issues, we end up having to snap the ball with a couple of seconds and at that point you're not going to throw the ball short of the end zone.
"So the one guy to the field I was flush to who was in the end zone was Rhymes and I tried to give him a shot. Hamilton played better than we did but that's where a lot of that frustration is. We literally spent every single drive of the game dealing with headset issues."
Brandon Banks scored Hamilton's other touchdown. Taylor Bertolet kicked two converts and three field goals while Joel Whitford had a single. The other points came on a safety.
James Butler also scored a TD for B.C. Vogel added two field goals.
Masoli finished 19-of-28 passing while Banks registered six catches for 75 yards.
Reilly was 33-of-43 passing for 330 yards and an interception while receiver Lucky Whitehead had nine catches for 98 yards.
Hamilton led 19-9 after Whitford's 61-yard punt scored a single at 13:31 of the third. Butler pulled B.C. to within 18-9 with an eight-yard TD run at 9:43 of the third, but Vogel missed the convert.
Bertolet had put Hamilton ahead 18-3 with a 20-yard field goal at 3:16 of the third.
Masoli's 32-yard TD strike to Banks at 14:01 of the second gave Hamilton a 15-3 halftime advantage. The score was the first of the season for Banks, who had 13 receiving touchdowns in 2019 when he was the CFL's outstanding player.
"To be honest, me personally I have nothing to prove individually," Banks said. "The only individual award I need right now is a Grey Cup and so that's all I'm focused on.
"What we're doing now is translating into wins. I'm all about winning right now. It (making playoffs) is just the first step to get to the main goal."
Masoli said the TD strike to Banks is certainly a boost to the veteran Ticat, who has battled an assortment of injuries this season.
"Speedy has been working his tail off and it's good to see him cash that cheque because he's been putting in a lot of work," Masoli said "I'm definitely proud of him but he's one of the most competitive guys on the team and so I know he's not satisfied."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press