Hamilton won its sixth game in a row at the new Tim Hortons Field, defeating the Montreal Alouettes 29-15 on Saturday to guarantee the Tiger-Cats will host the CFL East Division final in two weeks.
The Ticats started the season 1-6 with games on the road and "home" games played in front of small crowds at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium. Repeated construction delays kept them off of the new field which was being built on the site of the old Ivor Wynne Stadium.
But Hamilton began a new era at Tim Hortons Field with a 13-12 win over the Toronto Argonauts on Labour Day and played out the rest of the season with an 8-3 record, finishing 9-9 overall and winning the East over Montreal on point differential.
"It's hard to put your finger on it," said Ticats head coach Kent Austin. "We just really like it (here) and we love this field. We love our fans and the guys just feel comfortable here.
"There's been a few challenges, but all the challenges hopefully have made us better."
The louder crowds helped Hamilton's defence and the offence has learned how to deal with the constant southern wind at the new stadium. The Ticats are undefeated at their new home and any team wanting to get to the Grey Cup will now have to get through Hamilton.
"(The conditions) have made us more resilient," said Austin. "You can turn those things into a positive. It's just how you approach it and what's your perspective. We've never used anything as an excuse. The distractions, it doesn't matter.
"At the end of the day you're going to be on a football field playing a game and those men know that."
The turnaround to Hamilton's season also began the very game they got their starting quarterback Zach Collaros back. The 26-year-old missed five games with a concussion.
"The fans did a great job keeping us going," said Collaros about Saturday's win on a cold and rainy field where the offence didn't really get going until they scored a touchdown — a 15-yard pass to Brandon Banks early in the fourth quarter — to put some space between the Ticats and the Alouettes.
Until that point the only TD had been scored by Hamilton defensive back Brandon Stewart, who jumped on a Montreal fumble in the endzone after a blown lateral pass.
Playing on home field helps the whole team but "the defence, specifically, it helps us because the crowd noise is consistent, it's all game, they're relentless, they just keep going and we feed off of them," said Stewart.
"We're just playing good football right now and the fans are excited," he said. "They've been away from Hamilton (for almost one-and-a-half seasons after playing last year at the University of Guelph). They've got their football team back and they're showing it. They're showing that they're proud to have us back. And what other way to thank them than winning and getting a home playoff."Suggest a correction