Tiger-Cats play host to Eskimos in new temporary home in Guelph
Alumni Stadium is team's home venue this year
New venue, but Henry Burris is banking on the same old Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans.
The Ticats will make their home debut Sunday when they host the Edmonton Eskimos at Alumni Stadium in Guelph, Ont. Hamilton is playing its home games there while a new facility is built where Ivor Wynne Stadium once stood.
The Ticats expect to play at the new stadium next season.
"We love that atmosphere, the university setting," Burris said. "Definitely we want our fans to be rowdy but that's something that's automatic when it comes to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats faithful.
"The No. 1 thing about really getting the fans into it and keeping them going and keeping them loud and acting crazy is us handling business on the field. The fans are always going to be there and cheer us on to victory but we need to get out there and do our job as well. If we handle our business we already know the Ticats fans will handle theirs as well. They're one of the most craziest bunches in the league and I'm glad they're on my side."
Facing the Ticats at Ivor Wynne Stadium was always difficult for visiting teams. Not only were Hamilton squads traditionally tough, but opponents also had to endure the wrath of their enthusiastic supporters who were literally almost on top of the opposition's bench on the sidelines.
But Burris and the Ticats do have the benefit of experience at their new home. The club played an exhibition game in Guelph on June 20, defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 52-0 before 12,732 spectators, just short of the facility's expanded seating capacity of 13,000.
"I loved playing here, it was real football, it was great," said Ticats head coach Kent Austin, who played at Ivor Wynne while a quarterback with Saskatchewan, B.C., Toronto and Winnipeg. "You were cussed at, had things thrown at your head and had to keep your helmet on on the sidelines, it was awesome.
"It [Alumni Stadium] is our field and we need to make that our home field and make it a great experience for our players and our fans and make it a tough environment for teams to come in. That's important but easier said than done and we understand that."
Alumni Stadium, the home of the Guelph Gryphons, had an original seating capacity of roughly 7,500 that's been boosted with the addition of temporary stands. The teams' dressing rooms are located a short distance from the field, meaning players must walk to and from their benches following a pathway that's been roped off.
However, fans gather there and are close enough to high-five the athletes as they pass by. Or berate the opposition like the Ticats fans did to the Bombers during the pre-season.
"They were giving it to the Bombers players," Burris said. "Even the kids, five-year-old kids were just giving it to some of the players and I was like, 'Wow, what do they teach these kids?'
"It's good they're on our side because you definitely feel the love. When you take that field you want to thank those fans in a special way and that's all about going out and doing your job and doing what we've been coached to do all week. To be able to get the victory would definitely be the proper way to thank them."
The Ticats and Eskimos could certainly use a win after both dropped their season-opening games.
The defending Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts rallied for a 39-34 home victory over Hamilton last week while Edmonton lost 39-18 at Commonwealth Stadium to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Unfortunately for the Ticats, star slotback Andy Fantuz's status for the game remains unclear the result of a lower-body injury.
Fantuz had 10 catches for 155 yards and a TD against Toronto.
"It would be a definite maybe," Austin said regarding whether Fantuz will play.
Burris, who was 24-of-37 passing against Toronto for 361 yards with three TDs, said if Fantuz can't play the Ticats will have to find a way to overcome the loss.
Miserable debut for Eskimos QB Reilly
"One guy has to move into that spot and be ready to make plays," Burris said. "If Andy can't go, he's definitely a big loss. He's one of the best receivers in this league, a guy who's had a great training camp and followed it up with a great start to the season against Toronto."
Quarterback Mike Reilly had a miserable debut as Edmonton's starter, completing 17-of-35 passes for 259 yards for a TD against Saskatchewan with three interceptions. He was also sacked three times as the Eskimos finished with five turnovers.
Hamilton's defence had its difficulties against Toronto as quarterback Ricky Ray was named the CFL's offensive player of the week after passing for 368 yards and four TDs. Still, the Ticats had the chance for the win but Burris's pass to Fantuz in the endzone went off the receiver's fingertips on the final play.
"I thought we did a great job last week of protecting the football and I know it sounds like a cliche but that is the key stat," Austin said. "We had opportunities to make plays, especially in critical situations, and we've got to make those plays this week.
"They're probably going to try to run the football on us and we've got to stop the run and get them into second and long on offence and we have to pressure their quarterback."
That would suit defensive end Shomari Williams just fine. The six-foot-one, 232-pound Toronto native will dress Sunday after opening the season on the injured list.
"You want to try to get to [Reilly] as quickly as possible," Williams said. "You want to try and put a lot of pressure on him and disrupt his timing."
But Williams said Hamilton's defence can't overlook Edmonton's ground game featuring rookie John White and veteran Hugh Charles. They combined for 48 yards on 10 carries last week against Saskatchewan but the speedy Charles ran for a career-best 887 yards last season and averaged a solid 5.2 yards per carry.
"We have a very dynamic offence that they'll want to try to keep off the field and one way to do that is to try and run the ball," Williams said.
Edmonton slotback Fred Stamps practised sparingly this week but is expected to play Sunday. He had six catches for 125 yards and a TD against Saskatchewan.