Hamilton Tiger-Cats slot back Andy Fantuz lingered on the sideline longer than any of his teammates after Toronto Argonauts kicker Swayze Waters booted his game-winning 51-yard field goal with no time left on the game clock and subsequently no time left in the Ticats' season.
This wasn't the sort of homecoming the talented Canadian receiver envisioned when he signed a four-year, free-agent deal last February to play in Hamilton, the nearest CFL destination from his Southwestern Ontario hometown of Chatham-Kent.
Fantuz's decision to bolt the Saskatchewan Roughriders was ballyhooed. But when the Ticats needed victories at the end of the season to snatch a playoff spot, the 28-year-old Fantuz failed to come through.
He bobbled a snap in strenuous, snowy conditions at McMahon Stadium two weeks ago when Ticats kicker Luca Congi set up for a game-winning 30-yard field goal with time running out against the Calgary Stampeders.
Front and centre
Fantuz also was front and centre in the season-ending loss to the Argos. With the Ticats marching toward a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, he coughed up the pigskin trying to get an extra yard after a seven-yard reception at Toronto's 10-yard line. Argos linebacker Jason Pottinger recovered the turnover. The Argos received a boost and scored the next 10 points to take a 40-26 lead.
"This was disappointing," the 28-year-old Fantuz said. "We gave them too much of a lead and we made too many turnovers.
"Every one of us had to play better and, as a result, we would have had a better result. It sort of sums up our season."
Fantuz can't be solely blamed. The Hamilton defence was awful, especially early on. Maybe the Ticats took their rivals too lightly. After all, the Argos were without 10 starters in order to rest up for next weekend's Eastern semifinal and, after the elusive Chad Owens set the CFL record for all-purpose yards in the second quarter, he retired for the evening, too.
"I don't think we took them lightly because we moved the ball against them," said Fantuz, who won the 2005 Hec Crighton Trophy while at the University of Western Ontario.
"We just made some bad turnovers. If we don't do that, it's a whole different ballgame."
Besides his costly fumble, Fantuz did have one of his best games in his first year with Hamilton. He made eight catches for 109 yards to lead the Ticats. He did make a key 25-yard reception that helped set up Hamilton's late-game tying touchdown. And although he didn't score on Thursday, he did catch a career-high eight touchdowns this season.
'We didn't have an identity'
Still, the disappointment of a 6-12 year and no playoff berth hurt big time. After a 4-3 start, losing five in a row did not help matters.
"Clearly, we didn't have an identity this year," he said. "Some games, we won and played well in all phases of the game.
"In other games, we were terrible. It was too much of a roller coaster.
"We have to create an identity, we have to have that fire in us. We do have a lot of good pieces and talent on this team.
"It's just disappointing. We simply never recovered from that five-game skid."
'I felt comfortable here'
Fantuz is determined to return to the sort of consistent and reliable form he exhibited in 2010, when he was named the CFL's most outstanding Canadian. Because of that sound season, the Chicago Bears signed him. But after limited playing time in the pre-season, the Bears cut him before the 2011 NFL regular season.
He returned to the Roughriders, but an ankle injury he incurred while down south never fully healed and his season was cut short. Now he must continue find his way in Hamilton.
"I felt comfortable here," he said. "Hank [Henry Burris] is a great quarterback.
"I thought we had good chemistry and it got better and better as time went on. I foresee it getting even better next year.
"I had a few plays I left on the field."
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