HAMILTON — Diminutive Brandon Banks likes to think big.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ dynamic punt returner expects to score each time he settles under a booming kick. Although such expectations are unrealistic, the five-foot-seven, 153-pound Banks remains the CFL’s most dangerous special-teams performer with four punt returns for touchdowns.
That’s one behind the league record held by Ottawa Redblacks receiver Chris Williams, who set the standard in 2012 while with Hamilton. Banks, who had an 83-yard punt return TD in last weekend’s 23-20 home loss to the Calgary Stampeders, will have Williams’ mark in his sights when the Ticats (8-5) host the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2-12) on Friday night.
“I just want to go out there pretty much every time and return the kick if I can, but we know the reality,” Banks said on the Ticats’ website. “Hopefully I can get (fifth return TD) to tie the record.
“I just want to go out there and give 110 per cent effort . . . I’m just going to scratch and claw. I’m not so big so I’ve got to give a little bit more than the (other) guy. I’m just going to go out there each punt return and try to take one to the house.”
Kent Austin, Hamilton’s head coach/GM, said Banks certainly brings a unique skillset to the table.
“They (punt return TDs) are not easy to do,” Austin said. “He’s a great player, a great returner.
“He doesn’t just help us on the ones he takes back to the endzone but he has the ability to flip the field and get us good field position. He’s a premiere punt returner.”
The Ticats can certainly use Banks’ big-play abilities given they’re tied atop the East Division standings with the arch-rival Toronto Argonauts (8-5) and Ottawa (8-6). What’s more, Hamilton has shown a vulnerability at home, having lost three of its last four games at Tim Hortons Stadium.
The Ticats won their first 10 games at the facility before the Montreal Alouettes snapped that streak with a 26-23 road victory Aug. 23. Hamilton has lost two straight for the first time this season and will look to avoid its first three-game home losing streak since Sept. 19, 2008 — a span of 64 games.
Banks said Hamilton can’t afford to look past a Saskatchewan squad that’s 2-3 under interim head coach Bob Dyce.
“Actually, they’re a good team with the new coach,” Banks said. “Watching film I saw guys out there making plays especially on the defensive end.
“We can’t just look at them as just another team. We’ve got to come and play because these next five weeks are critical for us.”
Hamilton won the first meeting of the season 31-21 in Regina on July 26.
Surprisingly, Saskatchewan remains in playoff contention but needs plenty of help to reach the post-season.
Saskatchewan must not only win all four of its remaining games, but have B.C. drop all five of its contests. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers must beat the Lions this weekend, then go winless the rest of the way.
And finally, Montreal must lose four of its final five contests.
The good news for Saskatchewan is veteran slotback Chris Getzlaf appears poised to return to the lineup after missing seven games with a foot injury. Despite his lengthy absence, the 32-year-old Regina native’s four TD grabs is tied with Rob Bagg for the team lead.
“I think it means a lot to the quarterbacks, I think it means a lot to the team on a whole,” Dyce said of Getzlaf’s anticipated return. “A veteran like Chris, he’s a total pro.
“He’s kind of like a coach out there, even while he’s injured he’s helping guys out so that understanding and sometimes the presence of a veteran leads to greater confidence of the whole team.”
But centre Dan Clark (concussion) won’t play and will be replaced by Corey Watman.
For the Ticats, centre Mike Filer (lower body) and defensive end Eric Norwood (knee) are both expected to play Friday night.
The Canadian Press