HAMILTON — It didn’t look like quarterback Jeff Mathews was taking his first snaps in the CFL.
The 23-year-old out of Cornell University threw two touchdown passes and led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to 20 points in the first half as Hamilton cruised to a 37-10 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks on Monday night in CFL pre-season play.
Mathews spent last season jumping around the NFL before signing with Hamilton as a free agent in the off-season.
But it was the three years he spent at Cornell playing for Kent Austin — Austin left after the 2012 season to become Tiger-Cats head coach — that Mathews credits with helping his transition into the Canadian game.
“It’s a similar system,” he said about the Ticat offence compared to the one he ran at Cornell. “Obviously, the last seven days have been huge, to be in camp and to be working everyday in the offence with these guys.”
Mathews, who is competing for the back-up spot behind veteran Zach Collaros, hit Terrence Toliver down the right sideline for a 73-yard catch-and-run TD and threw a 23-yard score to Matt Coates.
He finished the half completing nine of 15 pass attempts for 188 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“It’s a quick-paced game,” he said of three-down football. “You don’t really feel that in practice as much as you do in the game. Obviously, you’ve got those two downs to make things happen so you’ve got to be really efficient in what you’re doing and we were fortunate tonight to be efficient in the passing game and running the ball well.”
“He’s a pretty good player,” smiled Austin. “He’s got the benefit of being in (an offence similar to his college days). Obviously, it’s modified to this game, but from terminology and the concepts that we run, these are familiar so that helps him come out of the curve quicker.”
Ticats kicker Justin Medlock hit field goals from 31, 37 and 32 yards out.
Quincy McDuffie returned the second half’s opening kick-off 98 yards to give Hamilton a 27-0 lead. McDuffie also ran a punt back 105 yards late in the fourth, but it was called back for an illegal block.
Jacory Harris took over for Mathews, leading a 47-yard scoring drive anchored by a 39-yard strike to Tiquan Underwood that ended at the one-yard line. Harris ran it in himself for the score and a 34-0 lead. He also threw one interception.
“The effort was there,” said Austin about the win. “The guys were prepared. Really pleased with where we’re at in our development. But listen, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell was particularly disappointed in his special teams play and in little mistakes that led to Hamilton points.
“The thing I was disappointed with early in the game is we had a chance to make some plays,” he said. “Their first touchdown should have been a sack. Those are the plays that we have to make. Another one comes to mind, the ball to the receiver is deflected and ends up getting intercepted. Those are the ones that are killers and those are plays that have to be made.”
Ottawa quarterback Danny O’Brien hit Torrance Hunt for a 15-yard TD early in the fourth to put the Redblacks on the scoreboard 34-7.
Medlock’s 32-yarder made it 37-7 with 10 minutes left to play.
Hunt also returned a punt 46 yards to the Hamilton 17. That set up Anthony Alix’s 35-yard field goal with two minutes left in the game to make it 37-10.
Both teams had only a week’s worth of training camp before tonight’s pre-season opener.
Hamilton didn’t dress Collaros, giving Mathews and Harris the ball. Jeremiah Masoli, the Ticats’ third-string QB last year, did not play.
Ottawa used four quarterbacks in the game, beginning with veteran Henry Burris, who finished the first quarter completing five of seven pass attempts for 56 yards.
Thomas DeMarco, Ottawa’s back-up last year, took over to start the second quarter, just as a torrential downpour began. He finished the half, completing five of nine pass attempts for 38 yards and one interception. O’Brien logged the TD early in the fourth, finishing off an 85-yard drive that began in the third, and then gave way to Brock Jensen.
The teams have until June 14 to get their rosters down to 65 players.
Carol Phillips , The Canadian Press