October 13, 2016 - 3:04 PM
HAMILTON - Kent Austin will have a new-look lineup Friday night when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Ottawa Redblacks.
Hamilton made 11 lineup changes for the game, including the addition of linebacker Keon Raymond and tackle Xavier Fulton to the starting lineup. The Ticats added veteran Raymond to its practice roster earlier this week and acquired Fulton in a trade with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Running back C.J. Gable also returns to Hamilton's offence in time for the crucial game against Ottawa. While the addition of healthy players is always a boon, having so many new faces does create the question of chemistry but Austin, the Ticats head coach/vice-president of football operations, isn't concerned.
"I trust our staff," Austin said Thursday. "Our guys will be ready to play."
Friday's game is an important one for both teams. Ottawa (6-7-1) is first in the East Division, just ahead of Hamilton (6-8-0).
And the two teams will meet again next weekend in Ottawa.
The first-place finisher in the East will secure home-field advantage for the division final Nov. 20. The second-place squad won't have the benefit of a bye week, hosting the conference semifinal Nov. 13.
Ottawa and Hamilton will also be looking to create more separation between themselves and third-place Toronto (5-10). That's because the Argonauts are in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs because of the CFL crossover.
Currently, Edmonton (8-7) stands fourth in the West but has more points than Toronto. If the Eskimos were to end the regular season with a better record than the Argos, they'd assume the East Division's third and final playoff seed.
Hamilton will also be minus starter Zach Collaros (concussion). That means Jeremiah Masoli will draw the starting assignment.
Masoli opened 2016 as Hamilton's starter while Collaros recovered from knee surgery and guided the Ticats to a 3-3 record.
"He's played well for us this year and has won football games," Austin said of Masoli. "He's a guy who prepares real well and cares about his teammates and wants to do well.
"He's a talented player so we expect him to play well."
Veteran Henry Burris will start for Ottawa after playing well in a relief role in last weekend's 32-30 overtime loss to Saskatchewan. Burris, 41, completed 9-of-16 passes for 138 yards and two TDs and also ran for a touchdown in rallying the Redblacks from a 15-point deficit in a wild fourth quarter.
Ottawa had the chance to secure the win in overtime but Chris Milo missed a 30-yard field goal, allowing Tyler Crapigna to connect from 39 yards out and secure Saskatchewan's third straight win.
Burris opened the season as Ottawa's starter but missed four games with a finger injury, resulting in Trevor Harris taking over the job. But the CFL's outstanding player last year returned under centre after Harris was injured in the Redblacks' 30-29 loss to Saskatchewan on July 22, only to be replaced by Harris once again.
"The entire field is open to him with his big arm," Austin said of Burris. "He has a knack of putting consecutive drives together especially when they get on a roll that you saw in the last game.
"There's not much he hasn't seen at this point in his career and played very confidently. He's playing great, he's a good football player."
But Burris won't have leading receiver Chris Williams (77 catches, 1,246 yards, 10 TDs), who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Saskatchewan. Still, the Redblacks' receiving corps still boasts Greg Ellingson (61 catches, 1,045 yards, four TDs), Earnest Jackson (67 catches, 918 yards, seven TDs) and Brad Sinopoli (76 catches, 865 yards, four TDs).
Hamilton's receiving corps will be minus Luke Tasker (76 catches, 852 yards, five TDs), who went on the six-game injured list this week. Canadian Andy Fantuz (85 catches, 926 yards, five TDs) will again anchor the unit but Austin said Tasker's season isn't necessarily done.
"It just means it's going to be extended a little bit," Austin said. "We can always pull him off the six-game.
"He just needs more time."
As does receiver Kevin Elliott, the former Toronto Argonaut the Ticats signed this week.
"He just wasn't quite ready to play this week," Austin said.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016