OTTAWA — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will travel to the nation’s capital for an East Division battle with the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the final week of the regular season.
The Ticats earned a critical 30-27 win over the REDBLACKS in Week 20, the win against Ottawa paired with a loss from the Saskatchewan Roughriders helped Hamilton secure the third and final playoff spot in the East.
Entering the final week of the regular season, Hamilton will have an opportunity to push their winning streak to four games. The Tabbies have won four of their last five games and have scored at least 30 points in three of their last four wins.
In the Week 20 meeting between the two division rivals it was the efforts of kicker Seth Small and quarterback Dane Evans that pushed their team to victory in a must-win game. Small converted five of his six field goal attempts, with a long of 38 yards. While Evans threw for 220 yards and added two rushing touchdowns, including a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter to give Hamilton the lead.
Approaching the final game of the regular season, Evans expressed the importance of giving their best effort, despite his team’s spot in the post-season being secured.
“I think it does mean something” Evans told Ticats.ca. “It’s pro football so no game is really meaningless. Anyone will tell you, you put bad stuff on tape you’re going to be out. If you flip it, Ottawa is playing for everything. There’s guys over there that are trying to make it on their team for next year. If we walk into this game thinking we’ll just wait for Montreal, we’re going to get hit right in the face. I don’t think that’s who we are.”
Entering Week 21, Evans will serve as the No.2 quarterback on the depth chart with Matthew Shiltz being listed as the starting quarterback.
Saturday’s contest against the REDBLACKS will mark the third start for Shiltz this season after spending time as the starting quarterback in Week’s 10 and 11 this season. The veteran Hamilton quarterback has set new career highs, completing 73 of his 101 passing attempts and throwing for 791 yards and four touchdown passes in 16 games.
Shiltz has also demonstrated his ability to extend plays with his legs, rushing for 152 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries this season.
When looking to the air in Week 21 Shiltz will find comfort and reliability in the veteran hands of Steven Dunbar Jr. who could find opportunity for increased target share in the absence of Tim White, who has been listed out for Saturday.
In their Week 20 meeting with the REDBLACKS, Dunbar reeled in three of his six targets for 46 yards. Through 16 games this season the second-year wideout has caught 69 passes for 969 yards and six touchdowns. With 31 yards on Saturday, Dunbar would join White as the only two Hamilton receivers to record 1,000 yards this season.
On the ground, Wes Hills will return to the lineup for the Ticats after missing the Week 20 matchup. Since taking over as the starting running back in Hamilton, Hills has provided a significant boost to a unit that sputtered early in the season. Over his last four games the second-year back has rushed for 303 yards and two touchdowns on 56 carriers, averaging just over 5 yards per carry.
In absence of Hills in Week 20, Sean Thomas Erlington was relied upon in the run game and delivered for the Black and Gold. The veteran back carried the ball 13 times and rushed for 104 yards against the REDBLACKS in Week 20.
Speaking to team media earlier this week, Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer placed importance on preparation, maintaining that the approach shouldn’t change regardless of standing.
“There’s so much that goes into it,” Steinauer told Ticats.ca. “It’s always an interesting decision. As we approach this game we’ve told everyone to prepare like they’re going to play. The preparation should never change.”
The REDBLACKS will also feature a change at the pivot spot in the final game of the regular season. After setting the CFL single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with his 15th major in Week 20, Caleb Evans will be given the opportunity to lead the Ottawa offence in the final game of the season.
Evans was thrust into the starting role earlier this season following an injury to Jeremiah Masoli and prior to the arrival of Nick Arbuckle. Evans has completed 100 of his 160 passing attempts, throwing for 1,191 yards and four touchdowns this season. His best statistical outing came in a Week 8 win over the Toronto Argonauts, Evans completed nearly 83 per cent of his passing attempts for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
When looking to the air in Week 21, Evans will be reliant upon the veteran hands of Darvin Adams and R.J. Harris, while also looking to young playmakers Siaosi Mariner and Justin Hardy to help push the ball downfield. In the previous meeting with Ottawa, Harris led the team as he reeled in seven of his 11 passing attempts for 72 yards, while Mariner caught three of his five targets for 37 yards in Week 20.
Entering the final week of the regular season, Ottawa defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin has an opportunity to build on what has been a standout season. While he has been listed as a game time decision, Mauldin has been a dominant force for the REDBLACKS pass-rush. The third-year REDBLACK has recorded a league-leading 16 sacks through 17 games this season and has five games where he has recorded multiple sacks.
Mauldin could finish the year as the CFL sack leader, however Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Shawn Lemon is on the heels of Mauldin with 14 sacks of his own. The Ticats offensive line has also proven to be problematic for opposing defensive lineman to penetrate. Hamilton has given up just 32 sacks on the year, the third fewest in the league.
Ottawa has an opportunity to exit the 2022 season on a positive note, while a win for the Ticats would push their winning streak to four before they square off with the Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern Semi-Final on November 6.
Kickoff from TD Place is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on TSN, RDS, ESPN+ and can be followed on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.