Head coach Orlondo Steinauer has loved the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' effort this season but admits that alone won't carry the club through the CFL playoffs.
Hamilton (7-6) hosts Saskatchewan (9-4) on Saturday in the regular-season finale for two teams that have already clinched second in their respective divisions.
Saskatchewan took care of business last week with a 29-24 win over the Edmonton Elks. Hamilton cemented the East Division's second seed after the Ottawa Redblacks upset the Montreal Alouettes 19-18 on Friday night.
Montreal (7-7) and Hamilton split their season series 1-1. However, the Ticats hold the tie-breaker based upon a better point differential and therefore will host the Alouettes in the East semifinal Nov. 28.
Toronto (9-5) clinched first in the East with an emphatic 31-12 home win over Hamilton last week. The Argonauts will host either the Ticats or Montreal in the East final Dec 5.
While Hamilton's effort was there against Toronto, its execution certainly wasn't.
"We got out-executed. Period. That's the truth," Steinauer said. "That's what the game is. You can branch it out 20 different ways (but) if you don't execute, your chances of winning are low.
"You turn on our tape, I love our effort . . . but effort doesn't win games. Effort and execution do. We need to see better execution from our football team if we want to have a chance down the stretch."
Veteran Jeremiah Masoli will make a seventh straight start for Hamilton and ninth this season. The 33-year-old quarterback has thrown for 300-plus yards four times this year, including a 326-yard performance last week versus Toronto.
But Masoli struggled early, completing six-of-17 first-half passes for 40 yards. And with Hamilton having already clinched second spot, the expectation is backup Dane Evans will also see some playing time Saturday.
Fortunately for Hamilton, running back Don Jackson (knee) returns Saturday. He ran for 120 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in the Ticats' 39-23 road win over Edmonton on Oct. 29 before rushing for 80 yards on 12 attempts in a 26-18 home victory over B.C. on Nov. 5.
However, Jackson can also expect to be spelled Saturday to ensure he's ready for the playoffs.
With Saskatchewan having already clinched second in the West, quarterback Cody Fajardo, running back William Powell, receiver Duke Williams and defensive lineman Micah Johnson will be among the veterans not playing. Sophomore Isaac Harker will make his first start of the season at quarterback and second of his CFL career.
"It's going to be a good test for all of our guys," said Riders head coach Craig Dickenson. "That's a 15-3 team from two years ago.
"I know they haven't played quite as well this year. But they've got quite a lot to play for and have many of the same guys on their team that they had two years ago."
Dickenson said many Riders players on the field Saturday will also be vying for playoff roster spots. Saskatchewan hosts the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinal Nov. 28.
"These guys might not be backups after this game," Dickenson said. "Let's put them in a game and see what they can do and if they play well, we'll have some tough decisions to make for the playoff game.
"That's the goal."
The six-foot, 195-pound Harker has completed 10-of-13 passes for 89 yards in 13 games this year. Over 31 career CFL contests, he's 54-of-74 passing for 556 yards with no TDs and three interceptions.
He finished 23-of-28 passing for 213 yards in Saskatchewan’s season-ending 23-13 road win over Edmonton in 2019. That victory gave the Riders first in the West Division.
Harker has faced Hamilton before. In Saskatchewan’s '19 season opener at Tim Hortons Field, he was eight-of-14 passing for 128 yards and two interceptions in relief of injured starter Zach Collaros and then-backup Fajardo.
Veteran receiver Shaq Evans will play for Saskatchewan on Saturday. He's good with that after missing seven games recovering from a broken foot.
"It's still a pro football game and you want to give it your all," Evans said. "You've got a guy back there like Isaac who's making his second start and you want to go out there and help him.
"I may not play the entire game but for the time I'm out there, I'm going to give it my all and try to win. Everybody loves double digits when it comes to wins so it would definitely be cool to go 10-4."
Evans has 24 catches for 217 yards in six games this season. The six-foot-one, 210-pound American had a breakout '19 campaign with 72 receptions for 1,343 yards and five TDs.
Evans isn't worrying about the threat of injury Saturday.
"I think when you're thinking about that is when you do get hurt," he said. "What's going to happen is going to happen, getting injured is out of your control.
"I don't think there's a way to prevent it but obviously you can be smart . . . it's still pro football and you try to win every game when you go out there. You just give it your all and let the chips fall where they may."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov, 19, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press