Jeremiah Masoli threw three first-half touchdown passes to lead the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a lopsided 48-8 CFL East Division semifinal win over the visiting B.C. Lions on Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton advances to the East final next Sunday against Ottawa at TD Place. The Redblacks swept the regular-season series 3-0.
Masoli, the East nominee for the CFL's most outstanding player award, helped Hamilton emphatically snap a three-game losing streak. The Ticats were the last team to reach the East final after losing their final three regular-season games, doing so in 2015.
Masoli finished 14-of-19 passes for 259 yards and three TDs before giving way to Dane Evans in the fourth.
B.C. reached the East Division playoffs as a crossover team after finishing fourth in the West with a 9-9 record. But the Lions ended their season with three straight losses, an unceremonious end to head coach Wally Buono’s illustrious CFL career.
The 40-point playoff loss was also the worst in Lions' history. No crossover team has reached the Grey Cup since the rule was adopted in 1996.
Lions head coach Wally Buono, left, shares a laugh with Tiger-Cats counterpart June Jones before Sunday’s CFL East semifinal. Buono wasn’t smiling for long as Hamilton jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back en route to a 44-8 victory. The 68-year-old will retire as the CFL’s winningest coach. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)
Hamilton's Frankie Williams ended B.C. starter Travis Lulay's day with a 39-yard interception return TD at 9:22 of the third. After completing 8-of-17 passes for 103 yards with a pick and lost fumble, Lulay was replaced by Jonathon Jennings on the Lions' next possession.
B.C. drove to the Hamilton one-yard line late in the third but Tyrell Sutton couldn't handle a high snap. Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence recovered and returned the ball to the Lions' one-yard line, where Evans scored to put the home side up 44-0 at 13:55.
'Nature Boy' in The Hammer
The Lions finally broke Hamilton's shutout bid with Jennings' 30-yard TD pass to Shaq Johnson at 2:15 of the fourth. Jennings then found Bryan Burnham for the two-point convert.
Retired wrestler Ric Flair whipped the announced Tim Hortons Field sellout of 23,911 into a frenzy by leading the pre-game Oskee-Wee-Wee chant.
The first half looked much like the first two quarters of Hamilton's 40-10 home win over B.C. on Sept. 29. The Ticats had a 28-0 half-time lead Sunday after leading 30-3 advantage at the half back in September.
Hamilton opened with three straight touchdown drives, the first time any team had done so in a CFL playoff game since the Ticats on Nov. 17, 1985 in a 50-26 win over Montreal.
Masoli opened with 10 straight completions for 177 yards and two TDs and finished 13-of-16 in the first half for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Masoli had 189 passing yards on 18-of-26 attempts for three TDs in the September victory.
Youngster Bralon Addison had an outstanding first half, registering five catches for 124 yards while Luke Tasker caught two of Masoli's TD strikes. Hamilton had 305 net offensive yards through two quarters.
Masoli and Co. had every answer for a B.C. defence that finished tied for the CFL lead in sacks (45) and interceptions (21). But the Lions were a dismal 2-7 on the road this season.
The game was halted at approximately 2 p.m. ET for a moment of silence to commemorate Remembrance Day. The CFL also honoured veterans during the pre-game coin toss and were scheduled to do the same before the Winnipeg-Saskatchewan West Division final in Regina later Sunday.
Ticats up 28-0 at the half
In addition, players sported poppy decals on their helmets.
Kevin Palmer and Sean Thomas Erlington also had touchdowns for Hamilton. Lirim Hajrullahu booted six converts, a field goal and single. The remaining points came on a safety.
Tasker gave Hamilton its 28-0 half-time lead after hauling in Masoli's 25-yard touchdown pass at 10:48 of the second. About the only thing to go wrong for the Ticats in the first half was Hajrullahu missing a 39-yard field boot on the half's final play.
B.C.’s offence mustered just 101 total yards and had the ball for just over 10 minutes in the opening half. Lulay, making his first playoff start since the ’13 West semifinal, was 6-of-12 passing for 84 yards.
Masoli hit Thomas Erlington on a nine-yard TD pass at 3:11 of the second to put Hamilton ahead 21-0. It came after Long missed a 41-yard field goal try.
Hamilton opening against the 15 km/h wind but led 14-0 before the contest was 10 minutes old. The Ticats opened with a nine-play, 90-yard scoring drive that Palmer capped at 6:20 of the first, recovering Evans' fumble on third-and-one in the end zone.
Then after Adrian Tracy recovered Lulay's fumble at the B.C. 42 on the Lions' first play from scrimmage, Masoli found Tasker on a 14-yard TD strike at 9:34.
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