SPORTS

Brandon Banks returns two punts for TDs to lead Ticats back to Grey Cup

11/23/2014 04:16 EST | Updated 01/23/2015 05:59 EST
HAMILTON - Brandon Banks and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made the Montreal Alouettes eat their words Sunday.

Banks had a playoff-tying two punt return TDs to lead Hamilton back to the Grey Cup with a 40-24 East Division final win over the Montreal Alouettes. Banks had five punt returns for a playoff-record 226 yards and had another 78-yard TD return negated by a penalty.

The victory was especially gratifying for Banks and the Ticats, who remained silent last week after Montreal players Duron Carter, Bear Woods and S.J. Green all boldly predicted their team would win. The assurances came despite the Alouettes losing 29-15 here Nov. 8 that earned Hamilton first in the East and home field for the division final.

Banks was a multi-threat, adding three carries for 35 yards and four catches for 33 yards. He finished with 294 total yards and played a major role in making Montreal choke on its words.

"Of course, we won," Banks said. "They guaranteed a win, didn't they so (they) can eat those words.

"It is what it is."

Defensive back Brandon Stewart, who was also centred out by Green last week, relished having the last laugh but said Green was gracious in defeat.

"He came up to me after the game and said, 'Good game, go win it in B.C.," Stewart said. "There's always respect, I mean he's a great receiver . . . but we're going to B.C. and they're not.

"That's all that matters."

Banks' 88-yard return at 10:55 of the fourth quarter was nothing short of amazing. The five-foot-seven, 153-pound speedster — whose nickname is Speedy B — was completely surrounded by Montreal defenders after corralling Sean Whyte's boot but somehow found a seam, then sprinted along the sidelines to put Hamilton ahead 37-24.

"He did a better job than our cover team," Montreal head coach Tom Higgins said. "I think we might have missed 13 tackles on one play, probably a guy had two shots at him.

"He had an outstanding performance and hats off to him."

Woods, who had a game-high 13 tackles, also gave Banks a tip of the cap.

"I told him walking off the field 'Man, you're the little killer," he said. "That's because that's two years in a row."

On Oct. 26, 2013, Banks returned a missed field goal 107 yards for a TD and added a 45-yard touchdown run as Hamilton beat Montreal 27-24 to clinch second in the East Division. The Ticats then beat the Alouettes 19-15 in the conference semifinal.

Hamilton's Kent Austin is off to his third straight Grey Cup game as a CFL head coach. He won the '07 contest in his rookie season on the sidelines with Saskatchewan. He left for the NCAA ranks after that season before returning north to Hamilton last year and said Sunday's contest was decided on special teams.

"I don't know if you ever expect that kind of performance but when you block hard for a talented returner like Brandon is, you always have a chance," Austin said. "Special teams was a big part of this game.

"You always have plays but at the end of the day it's just effort, it's just a desire to stay on your blocks . . . but (Banks) is an unbelievable player."

The win, which improved Hamilton's record at Tim Hortons Field to 7-0, delighting the enthusiastic sellout of 24,334 on a balmy 11 C afternoon. The Ticats will face the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup on Nov. 30 at B.C. Place and chase their first CFL title since '99 — when they beat the Stampeders 32-21 in Vancouver. Calgary downed the Edmonton Eskimos 43-18 in the West final later Sunday.

The Ticats lost 45-23 to the Saskatchewan in last year's Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium.

Hamilton controlled the play against the 15 kilometre-an-hour wind and two Nic Grigsby rushing TDs came following interceptions against Montreal's Jonathan Crompton, who threw three picks overall to fall to 9-3 as the club's starter. The Alouettes were looking to return to the Grey Cup for the first time since winning it in 2010.

Crompton cut Hamilton's lead to 27-24 with a 63-yard TD strike to Green — his third of the game — at 4:45 of the fourth. Collaros, in his first CFL playoff start, countered by marching Hamilton downfield for Justin Medlock's 42-yard field goal at 9:32.

Then Banks cemented the contest with his second punt return TD. Hamilton's defence did its part, forcing four turnovers while Grigsby finished with 93 yards rushing on 18 carries.

Crompton recorded his first 300-yard game as a CFL starter, completing 25-of-36 passes for 314 yards. Green had six catches for a game-high 126 yards and three TDs.

Montreal ran for just 73 yards rushing on 18 carries against a Hamilton defence that had allowed a league-low 76.8 yards rushing during the season.

Hamilton cornerback Delvin Breaux was outstanding against Montreal's Duron Carter, holding the league's third-leading receiver to just three catches for 25 yards. Carter, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter, likely played his final CFL contest as there's reportedly 10 NFL teams interested in the Alouettes star.

Collaros was 18-of-27 passing for 199 yards and also added 19 yards rushing on three carries.

"We were confident but we're not going to run our mouths to the media," Collaros said. "That's not what we're about.

"Speedy B and the defence carried us through and we did enough on offence. I don't know what to say about Speedy B, he's just amazing out there."

Grigsby's three-yard TD run at 8:50 of the third put Hamilton ahead 27-14. It was set up by Erik Harris's interception, with an unnecessary roughness call on Carter put the Ticats' on the Montreal 38.

Medlock had four converts and four field goals.

Whyte booted three converts and a field goal.

NOTES — Offensive lineman Marc Dile and receiver Giovanni Aprile didn't dress for Hamilton. Defensive lineman Corvey Irvin and defensive back Jamahl Knowles were Montreal's scratches . . . During the regular season, Ticats opponents have converted just 28 per cent of their second-down opportunities at Tim Hortons Field . . . With CFL commissioner Mark Cohon in Calgary for the West Division final, league COO Michael Copeland performed the opening coin toss.

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