HAMILTON – This time, quarterback Dane Evans and his Hamilton Tiger-Cats overcame a late-game collapse to win in front of their faithful on Saturday.
Evans connected with receiver Tim White for a three-yard touchdown strike on third and goal with 19 seconds remaining to pull out a 25-23 CFL victory before 20,411 against the winless Ottawa Redblacks (0-5).
The Tiger-Cats’ come-from-behind win came on the heels of second-half collapses in their first two games at Tim Hortons Field in 2022.
“We kind of got a little funk again, as we had been,” Evans said. “But it’s what we’ve talked about all week is that we’re done with that, like, whatever it is. We’re just moving forward, and I’m glad we got to finish.”
White was the primary target on the game-winning play.
“It depended on the coverage,” White said. “Obviously, it was about the coverage, and we liked it. Dane just made a great read.”
The Ticats enjoyed an 18-10 advantage at halftime thanks to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Evans to newcomer Anthony Johnson late in the second quarter.
But the visitors scored on their first possession of the second half on a one-yard plunge from quarterback Caleb Evans, who was in for an injured Jeremiah Masoli. The latter was knocked out of action for 10 to 12 weeks with a knee injury in Ottawa’s previous game.
The offenses struggled until midway through the final quarter. Redblacks defensive lineman Davon Coleman had Evans locked up at Hamilton’s 24-yard line when the ball came loose. The pigskin squirted to the one-yard line, where Ottawa’s Lorenzo Maudlin recovered it.
Caleb Evans scored on another one-yard run for a 23-18 lead, only to see his two-point conversion attempt fail.
When Dane Evans returned to the sidelines, he was given word that backup Matt Shiltz would replace him. On the second Ticats possession after the Dane Evans fumble, an 88-yard punt return from Lawrence Woods put his team first and goal.
But Hakeem Bailey intercepted Shiltz at the goal line on third and goal. However, the Ticats defense held and Hamilton had one final attempt to snatch its first win.
Dane Evans returned, led the team down the field, and hit White for the winning score.
“When I fumbled (Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer) said ‘we’re gonna go with Matt,'” Evans said. “I completely understood.
“I don’t care if I’m gonna stand there and pass Gatorade out to everybody, or I gotta go throw every ball like we win the game. I’m gonna be a happy man. I promise you that. And then when he told me to go back in, it’s just time to rock ‘n’ roll.”
It was a wild finish for Evans, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception, something he did eight times in the first four games.
“The CFL always has crazy losses at the end of the game,” Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice said. “(The Ticats) have been through some crazy losses themselves the past couple of games. You have to play the whole game. We put ourselves in position to kick a long field goal, and it’s just short. A couple more yards, and it’s a happy (locker) room.”
Ottawa placekicker Lewis Ward came up short on his 53-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
Caleb Evans went 18 for 30 for 203 yards and a touchdown but tossed a pair of interceptions.
While the Redblacks continue to search for their first win without their star quarterback, there was a sense of relief in the dressing room Masoli used to call home.
“Whenever you prolong winning, it’s tough,” Steinauer said. “It’s tough, especially in football, because in other sports, you might play two, three games a week. In football, you are a loser for seven days, maybe 14 days.
“You only get one crack a week at this, so it does become tougher to keep a group together, but I’ll tell you what, from the inside out, that’s a pretty positive and undivided group.”