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Canada

Redblacks in control of East as Western cross-over seems a virtual certainty

One of the craziest nights in the history of the CFL unfolded on Saturday, the kind that will have a dramatic impact on the fortunes of Southern Ontario’s two franchises and, by extension, the Eastern Division playoff picture.

In Toronto, the Argos missed a long field-goal attempt in the final seconds that would have ended an ugly three-game losing streak, but instead allowed the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders to escape with a 30-29 victory.

One play earlier, Argos QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson badly overthrew a wide-open S.J. Green at the Riders 12 for what almost cetainly would have been the game-winning touchdown.

Hours later in Vancouver, in one of the most bizarre coaching moves you’ll ever see, Ticats head coach June Jones decided to eschew a field-goal attempt with 59 seconds remaining that would have given Hamilton a 10-cushion and sealed the deal for the visitors, electing instead to punt for a single.

But Lions QB Jonathan Jennings, trailing by eight, methodically completed four passes down the field, covering 59 yards in the final nine seconds, to score a touchdown with no time remaining and then got Bryan Burnham had his toe in bounds on a great reception after officials ruled it incomplete. The two-point convert was verified, forcing overtime.

Starting from the Hamilton 35 in OT, B.C. had to settle for a field goal on its opening possession.

Hamilton then had the hammer, but yet another strange coaching call unfolded when Jones appeared to be uncertain on whether to gamble on third-and-short inside B.C.’s 10. The Ticats allowed the play clock to expire and had to kick a game-tying field goal.

With first possession in the second overtime, the Ticats missed a field goal.

The Lions got the ball back, ran one play then sent placekicker Ty Long out to win a game 35-32 that they had no business winning.

Bad coaching, poor defence on B.C.’s final series in regulation, some incredible playmaking by Burnham and that costly miss by Lirim Hajrullahu doomed the Ticats and it may haunt Hamilton if it cannot rebound from a night that clearly got away.

As fate would have it, the Ticats play host to the Lions in a rematch on Saturday.

A Tiger-Cats win in B.C., would have buried the Argos — if they aren’t already buried — because it would have moved Hamilton to 7-6, instead of sitting at 6-7.

The Argos, who have lost four straight, are 3-9, but the prospects look grim with a road game this Friday in Calgary followed by another in B.C., as the Lions continue to feast on home field.

The Argos need help and will require the Lions to beat the Ticats again in Hamilton.
If the Argos lose to the Stamps — and Calgary will be prohibitive favourites — their chances of finishing second in the East would all but evaporate once the Ticats come to town on Oct. 12.

Hamilton holds the tiebreaker over the Argos.

The Ticats play the Redblacks in a home-and-home series beginning Oct. 19 in Ottawa.
Hamilton’s loss in B.C., all but means that it must sweep its series with Ottawa to have any shot of playing host to the East final.

Toronto, meanwhile, is on life support with virtually no chance to catch the Redblacks.
Catching Hamilton will also be tough and it’s unknown what kind of mental scars the Ticats will carry into this week’s return matchup against B.C., which is not a good road team.

The way things played out Saturday, it’s looking more and more like Ottawa will win the East with Hamilton playing host to a crossover, either against B.C. or Winnipeg, which once again raises the spectre of an all-Western Grey Cup.

The only question remains is which team from the West would be heading to the Hammer for the Nov. 11 East final.

For the Argonauts, the mathematics and optics don’t look good. Which is fitting because the defensding Grey Cup champions have not looked good all season. What unfolded against the Riders pretty much summed up their lost season.

The push for the playoffs has begun and Saturday’s incredible endings in Toronto and Vancouver have set the stage for what is sure to be a classic CFL finish.

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