Ticats can’t afford another slow start, regardless of tough schedule

HAMILTON — The last time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats played in Calgary was perhaps, if not definitely, the lowest point of a lost season.

It was Week 6 but just the fifth game of the 2017 season when it all came crashing down on the Ticats in a two-hour, 39-minute beatdown that ended with the Ticats on the wrong end of a 60-1 score.

They return this weekend to open the regular season for both teams with a 7 p.m. EST kickoff at McMahon Stadium on Saturday.

In that infamous game, the Stampeders scored eight touchdowns — four via the run, two via the pass, one on an interception return and another on a punt return. It was a total meltdown on all fronts from Hamilton’s standpoint and the loss dropped their record to 0-5, four games before they would taste their first victory.

Simoni Lawrence, a leader of on Hamllton’s defence, did not make the trip. Through the first four weeks of the year, the veteran linebacker was hobbling through a lower-body injury and the call was made by then-head coach Kent Austin to leave Lawrence at home.

Lawrence watched the game from the Cactus Club Cafe in downtown Toronto. He admits to watching only part of the game because he quickly and properly lost interest early. The Ticats were down 39-1 by the half. Lawrence doesn’t recall much of it.

But he does recall the scenario that had him sitting in Toronto while his teammates and his franchise was being rolled over in Calgary.

“Without coach Orlondo (Steinauer), last year it was different,” Lawrence said. “Before if I’m banged up, it was just get ready for the game. But last year it was like some iron man (crap) where it was you still had to practice every day and go hard even if you were hurt and stuff. I just hurt it more. Coach Austin had a talk with me (before the Calgary game) and said we would just let it heal up and we’ll see how long we can hold you out. We got beat 60-1 and then I was back the next week playing on it again.”

Steinauer is back after a year in the NCAA, returning as an assistant head coach under June Jones, and so is some common sense and Lawrence has a very good feeling about this year’s Tiger-Cats.

“I mean, look at our organization from top to bottom,” Lawrence said. “We are well-coached, we got really, really good players and there is no reason we can’t be awesome early.”

But to be “awesome early”, as Lawrence puts it, is going to mean getting results early against a schedule that has them opening in Calgary, playing Week 2 in Edmonton, home to Winnipeg in Week 3, then home and away with Saskatchewan around a bye week taking them to the end of Week 6.

Lawrence is well aware of the challenge but focussed on a good start nonetheless.

“We got to start the year out fast because I feel like here we are always in panic mode trying to fight our way back,” he said. “It would feel good just to start the year off fast and show how dominant a team we can be.”

As bad as that last trip out to Calgary was for the organization, Lawrence goes into the weekend full of confidence. At the same time, he appreciates the tall task at hand.

Calgary has had a little more turnover than usual this year because of some retirements and some losses via free agency. They head into Week 1 with a few more questions than they are used to having at this time of year. However, the basic schemes are still there and the Stamps remain a formidable opponent.

“They are just a well-oiled machine,” Lawrence said. “I was watching film for like three hours last night and the thing is the Calgary offence is so fun to watch. Once you catch everything and what they do, it’s just fun. I was like, ‘Hey, that’s the new Marquay McDaniel right there. They just stick new people in spots and they do exactly the same thing (the guy before them did). (Fullback Rob) Cote retired and I’m looking at the guy at fullback and it looks just like Cote. The concepts are always the same. If you really study Calgary as a player you can make a lot of plays.”

And that along with a thorough overhaul of the coaching staff and the Ticats’ roster since that Game 6 beatdown — only nine of the 24 starters from that game are still with the Ticats — gives Lawrence hope.

“Sometimes when it rains it pours and that was one of those games you never want to see happen to our organization,” Lawrence said. “We got that in the back of our heads now.”

DROPPING LIKE FLIES

The running back situation is a little murky as the Ticats open the season this weekend in Calgary.

Expected starter Alex Green took a shot to the hand in Saturday’s tune-up in Montreal and, after consultation with doctors, it was decided he would sit out a couple of weeks.

The team has brought in John White from Edmonton and added him to the practice roster but, for at least the season opener in Calgary, the spot will be shared by Canadians Mercer Timmis, Sean Thomas-Erlington and converted linebacker Nikita Whitlock.

White is coming off a tough season that was limited to two games after he tore his ACL. Previously, he lost another season to injury when he ruptured his Achilles.

But, in 2016 when he was healthy, White rushed for nearly 900 yards, caught just shy of 500 yards and combined for nine touchdowns in his best season in the CFL.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies