MONTREAL — Hamilton Tiger-Cats safety Tunde Adeleke understands the history, but doesn’t believe it predicts the future.
When the Tiger-Cats face the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL Eastern Semi-Final Sunday at Percival Molson Stadium it will be the ninth time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 1996.
Hamilton has won seven of the previous eight meetings, but Adeleke said that has no bearing on this game.
“What happened in previous years has nothing to do with this year,” the East Division All-Star said after practice this week. “At the end of the day it’s who we’re playing on Sunday.
“We’ve just got to play our best football. We have to play better than them.”
Veteran Alouettes offensive guard Kristian Matte isn’t haunted by the past.
“You can’t think of the past to move through the future,” he told the Montreal Gazette earlier this week. “You have to think in the moment and be prepared for what’s to come.
“We know they’re a tough team and opponent. We’re going to be a tough opponent as well.”
Sunday’s winner plays the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field in the Eastern Final next weekend. The Grey Cup will be played on November 20th from Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
Both Montreal and Hamilton travelled a rocky road to get to the playoffs.
The Alouettes recovered from a 2-6 start to start to the season and finished second in the East with a 9-9 record.
In July general manager Danny Maciocia relieved head coach Khari Jones and defensive coordinator Barron Miles of their duties. Many of the Alouettes believe their season turned around when Montreal earned a 20-17 overtime victory in Week 10, handing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers their first loss of the season.
“It’s been crazy,” receiver Eugene Lewis, the East’s nominee as the league’s Most Outstanding Player, said about the year. “It just goes to show through all the adversities, we were able to set goals and complete the goals that we wanted.”
The Tiger-Cats, who have lost the last two Grey Cups to Winnipeg, opened the season with four straight losses. They finally found their legs and won their final four down the stretch to finish 8-10.
Hamilton lost seven straight road games before finishing the season with wins in Calgary and Ottawa.
Head coach Orlondo Steinauer said the home team usually has an advantage but his team isn’t frightened by the prospect of travelling to Montreal.
“We’re never going to take the field not expecting to win,” said Steinauer. “That’s just how we’re built.”
The teams played each other three times this year with the Alouettes winning twice, both at home. Two of the games were decided a touchdown, one by a single point.
Montreal averaged 26.4 points a game during the season compared to Hamilton’s 23.4. The Als allowed an average 25.9 points while the TiCats gave up 26.3.
“There’s not a significant gag between these two teams,” said Maciocia. “There’s players on both sides that can make a difference and it’s going to be the team that makes a few more plays that’s going to come out on top.
“I don’t anticipate it being a one-sided football game.”
Montreal’s Trevor Harris was the third-ranked quarterback in the CFL, completing 331 of 462 passes for 4,157 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
“He’s a good rhythm quarterback,” said Adeleke. “If you let him get a little bit of rhythm, get three or four completions, he’s going to feed off that and keep going.
“You have to disrupt him. We’ve just got to play how we played all year and finish.”
Harris’s favourite target was Lewis who was third in the league with 91 catches for 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his three games against Hamilton Lewis had 22 catches for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
“Every time I go out there, I’m going to play my best,” said Lewis. “They are too, but I just want it more.
“It’s just competing every day and taking advantage of opportunities.”
The Als lost running back William Stanback for most of the season after suffering a fractured ankle in Week 1, but Jeshrun Antwi and Walter Fletcher have both stepped up in his absence.
Antwi finished the year with 600 yards on 106 carries. Fletcher had 85 carries for 486 yards and a touchdown.
A healthy Stanback gives the Alouettes plenty of options in the backfield.
“Everyone knows they have a good receiving corps and with Stanback back, a solid group of running backs,” said Adeleke. “They’re an all-around good offence.
“We played these guys a good amount of times to understand what they’re going to do to try to beat us. They are going to know what we’re going to try to do to beat them. It’s just who ever plays the best football.”
Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans suffered through an inconsistent year. He completed 305 of 457 yards for 3,883 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also threw a league-high 16 interceptions and led the CFL with eight fumbles, seven of which he lost.
Steinauer said it’s possible backup Matthew Shiltz could see some playing time against the Als, but he still has confidence in Evans.
“He’s able to get the job done, be it as a starter or a backup” said Steinauer. “He’s willing to do whatever role it takes.
“In big games you’ve got to perform and that’s not just Dane, that’s everybody.”
The Tiger-Cats had two receivers among the league’s top 10. Tim White led the league with 94 catches, resulting in 1,265 yards and eight touchdowns. Steven Dunbar Jr. had 72 grabs for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.
Lewis said there’s been plenty of chatter on the field the last couple of times the teams met. He expects the playoff game to be physical with lots of emotion.
“They’ve been talking a little crazier than they usually do,” he said. “ There’s some animosity.
“We both want to win. We really don’t like them and they don’t like us. Nobody cares. We’re going to go out there and put on a show.”