HAMILTON — Now comes the fun part for Simoni Lawrence and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans threw touchdown passes and Lawrence became the franchise's all-time leader in tackles as Hamilton defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 24-3 in the regular-season finale for both teams Saturday.
Up next for Lawrence and the Ticats is hosting the Montreal Alouettes next weekend in the East Division semifinal.
"It's always good to go into the playoffs with a winning mindset and just keep the mind in a winning category," Lawrence said. "It's a big win for us and it's time to go to the playoffs and earn everything else."
Saturday's game meant nothing in the standings as both teams had already cemented second spot in their respective divisions. Saskatchewan clinched its position with last week's 29-24 win over Edmonton, while Hamilton (8-6) captured the East's No. 2 spot with the Ottawa Redblacks' 19-18 comeback win Friday night over Montreal (7-7).
Montreal and Hamilton split their season series 1-1. The Ticats earned a 27-10 road win Aug. 27 before the Alouettes erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit en route to a 23-20 overtime victory at Tim Hortons Field on Oct. 2.
"We want to play Montreal, we're excited about playing Montreal," Lawrence said. "If they stole it (overtime win), it's time for us to prove that they stole it.
"That's the great thing about football and that's what we're excited about."
Saskatchewan (9-5) will be home to the Calgary Stampeders (8-6) in next weekend's West Division semifinal.
With nothing on the line, Saskatchewan didn't play a host of veterans, including starter Cody Fajardo, running back William Powell, receiver Duke Williams, defensive lineman Micah Johnson and offensive lineman Dan Clark. Sophomore Isaac Harker made his first start of the season — and second of his CFL career.
Hamilton fielded its starters and predictably controlled the contest before a season-high Tim Hortons Field gathering of 22,344. Masoli was solid completing 17-of-21 passes for 223 yards and a TD in staking the Ticats to a 14-0 halftime lead.
Evans took over to start the third and wasted no time giving Hamilton a 21-0 lead. He capped a nine-play, 63-yard drive with a six-yard TD strike to Brandon Banks at 4:34.
"It's natural instinct to maybe exhale but when they came out there and played, I thought their effort was extremely high," Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said of his squad. "I thought the intensity was there, I thought they showed a sense of urgency.
"We'll continue to grind, I know we have the right guys for it."
Lawrence registered five tackles to boost his career total to 609, surpassing Rob Hitchcock (606) for tops in club history.
"It's legendary," Lawrence said of the record. "He (Hitchcock) is a legend and a well-respected man around Hamilton and the love was felt from him this whole season.
"It's a competitive sport and we all want to be at the top and he was for a very long time."
Michael Domagala's 34-yard field goal at 6:01 put the Ticats ahead 24-0 following Tunde Adeleke's interception. Brett Lauther's 16-yard field goal at 13:35 accounted for Saskatchewan's scoring.
"We got more information," said Steinauer. "I was pleased with the defence getting some stops early just to really squish any momentum that they possibly had started.
"I was very excited and proud of the offence coming out after halftime and taking the ball and sticking it into the end zone. It was good to see both Jeremiah and Dane do some good things and I thought we ran the ball effectively at times. But now it's time to flip the page."
Harker gave way to Mason Fine in the third before returning in the fourth. Harker finished 16-of-23 passing for 150 yards and two interceptions while Fine was 5-of-9 attempts for 64 yards.
Saskatchewan didn't help itself either with penalties (12 for 101 yards) or turnovers (four). The Riders generated 255 net offensive yards while holding the ball for under 25 minutes.
"You don't visualize this going the way it did," Harker said. "But there's also a lot of extenuating circumstances that you don't have control over and sometimes you just have to push through.
"I got a shot and it didn't end up how I wanted. But I don't regret anything, all the hours I put into it. I'm just going to have to wait until my next turn."
Evans was 10-of-16 passing for 126 yards with two interceptions. He also ran for 33 yards on four carries and had a 25-yard punt.
Don Jackson scored Hamilton's other touchdown. Domagala kicked two converts, a single and three field goals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press