HAMILTON — David Watford’s first start in the CFL resulted in a win, even though none of his drives resulted in a touchdown.
Taylor Bertolet connected on all five field-goal attempts and Simoni Lawrence scored a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Calgary Stampeders 23-17 at Tim Horton’s Field on Friday.
“I definitely felt rusty but I was just able to go out there and the guys really got me going,” Watford said.
Watford made his first start under centre for the Ticats (3-3) after injuries to Dane Evans (lower-body) and Jeremiah Masoli (ribs), and finished the game with 19 passes on 22 attempts for 149 yards passing. Masoli dressed as the backup up Friday.
“First and foremost he didn’t turn the ball over,” Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said of Watford. “We knew there was a chance he’d be vulnerable because he’s running the ball a lot.
“It’s hard, he hasn’t taken any hits. It’s hard to prepare for that.”
Watford was the Ticats leading rusher with 10 carries for 35 yards. He received a lot of support from his team’s defence and special teams, limiting Calgary to 279 yards total offence.
Bo Levi Mitchell was 16 for 28 passing for 170 yards and one interception for the Stampeders (2-5). It was the quarterback’s first loss against Hamilton in his career, after winning the previous 12 games against the club.
Mitchell, who has seven interceptions in four starts this season, was pulled in the final 2:20 of the game in favour of backup quarterback Jake Maier.
“I’m never going to be good with that, just because I believe in myself,” Mitchell said of Stampeders’ coach Dave Dickenson’s decision to take him out of the game. “If I was OK with that, that would be a problem, but regardless I’m not the coach.”
Both teams struggled to sustain any offence to start.
In the first quarter, Watford went two-and-out on his first drive of the game from Hamilton’s 27-yard line. But the pivot received favourable field position for his next drive that commenced immediately after Calgary’s Richard Leonard fumbled a punt return. Ticats kicker Bertolet hit a 47-yard field goal despite that put Hamilton on the board 3-0.
The Stampeders replied when they recovered a ball off a fumbled punt return by Hamilton’s Frankie Williams. Calgary kicker Rene Paredes hit a 31-yard field goal to tie the game 3-3.
In the second quarter, the Stampeders fumbled their second punt return, this time by Markeith Ambles. Watford managed his longest drive of the half, eight plays for 47 yards. Bertolet completed the drive with an 18-yard field goal to put the Ticats up 6-3 with 35 seconds remaining until halftime.
Hamilton mustered 110 yards of offence in the first half, edging out Calgary’s 107 yards.
The Ticats opening scoring in the second half on the opening drive when Bertolet hit his third field goal of the game from 49 yards out for a 9-3 lead.
On Calgary’s following drive, Luther Hakunavanhu for a 74-yard catch that set up a one-yard touchdown by Jake Maier for the game’s first major. Paredes converted the point after to give the Stampeders their first lead, 10-9, with 11:14 remaining in the quarter.
The catch by Hakunavanhu was his first reception in the CFL. The fifth-round pick in the 2021 CFL Draft saw more action with starting receiver Hergy Mayala missing the game with a quad injury.
The Ticats replied with their first touchdown of the game, and it came from the defence.
“I was just so happy for our football team because we needed that lift,” Steinauer said. “They were backed up right there and the way he ran the ball (into the endzone) he was like a running back.”
Lawrence picked off Mitchell for a 15-yard touchdown, then Maleek Irons rushed the ball into the endzone for a two-point conversion that gave Hamilton a 17-10 lead over Calgary at 6:35.
Bertolet hit a 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that increased Hamilton’s lead to 20-10. He followed that up with 32-yard field goal late in the quarter for a 23-10 lead.
Mitchell was pulled in favour of backup quarterback Maier for the final 2:20 of the game.
Maier connected with Richard Sindani for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining in regulation. The point after cut Hamilton’s lead to 23-17.
The Stampeders attempted an onside kick but were unsuccessful, ending any attempt at a comeback.
Fifteen thousand fans took in the game at Tim Horton’s Field, the maximum allowed under current COVID-19 protocols set forth by the provincial government.
David Alter, The Canadian Press