There is officially a good football team in Hamilton.
No, not the one at McMaster University, but the one that slugged it out with the CFL's Western Conference-leading Edmonton Eskimos in a heavy rain at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday night.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are 4-2 — already a victory better than they achieved all of last season — and they sit a well-deserved two points back of the Montreal Alouettes in the East, thanks to a 28-21 margin over the Esks.
This is a club that, in the previous four years, won just 15 times in 72 tries.
Rookie DeAndra' Cobb's 40-yard scamper set up a quarterback sneak by Quinton Porter with less than a minute to go for the Cats, who relied on a strong defence and a short-passing offence to claw out the two points.
"It feels great," said Porter, who was handed the starting job this season by coach Marcel Bellefeuille.
"It doesn't feel great because I'm proving anything, it feels great because this team is winning. We're putting in all the work we can right now to get this team on track and now we're 4-2."
Edmonton, coming off impressive wins over Saskatchewan and Montreal, dropped to 3-3.
Right on time
Hamilton's winning drive started with 1:37 on the clock and the ball on the Eskimos' 43.
Cobb, the two-time league player-of-the-week in his first campaign north of the border, had been held in check nicely by the Eskimos all night and this time was able to get just two yards on a first-down handoff from Porter.
Already in field goal range for Nick Setta, the Cats gave the ball to the diminutive Michigan State product again, hoping he could get a couple of yards up the middle and keep in good position for the kick.
But Cobb bounced off the big fellas plugging the line, deked to his right and found some open field. Out-running three Edmonton defenders, he seemed to make it into the end zone but replays put the ball just over a yard out.
Porter ran it in from there on a nice second effort for the winning score.
A late drive by the Eskimos fell short as time ran out.
Key plays in 3rd quarter
The visitors had more than one chance to win this.
Edmonton guard Patrick Kabongo, who had a tough night battling Hamilton linemen, took one of his three holding calls at the wrong time in the third quarter.
Quarterback Ricky Ray threaded a nice pass to Graeme Bell through two Cats' defenders in the end zone for a touchdown that should have created some space on the scoreboard.But it was called back on the hold and Edmonton took a field goal for a 21-14 lead.
That was Noel Prefontaine's fourth three-pointer on the night, each time coming after a nice drive bogged down.
Two series after Kabongo's hold, Porter took the Cats on an eight-play drive that finished with a crossing-route catch and touchdown by Chris Davis, tying the game at 21-21.
Eskimos coach Richie Hall thought his team played well, despite the loss.
"I'm still encouraged by our team," said the rookie bench boss. "We've played well in the last three games and won two of them. We just didn't win this one."
Too many field goals
An entertaining first half found the Eskimos leading 18-14 as the teams went to the dressing rooms.
Kamau Peterson caught his first touchdown of the season for an early 9-0 Edmonton lead and a Prefontaine field goal made it 12-0 before the Cats got on the board.
All of Hamilton's first-half points came within 1:17 of the second quarter.
Porter led an impressive nine-play, 93-yard drive for a score that featured six straight passes of 12 to 15 yards, split between Arland Bruce III and Davis, plus a scramble by the pivot himself down to the five.
Cobb took it in from there to make it 12-7.
When Ray got the ball back, he found linebacker Jamall Johnson in his face and rushed a long pass down the field that Cats' defender Chris Thompson picked off.
Thompson rumbled 21 yards before lateralling to teammate Chris Tisdale, who took the ball another 48 yards for the touchdown.
"That was one of those 'No, no, no, no ... yes, yes, yes, yes,' [plays]," coach Bellefeuille said later.