Hamilton lost 43-40 to Toronto on a last-second 51-yard field goal from Swayze Waters, ending its slim playoff hopes. Even had the Ticats (6-12) won the wild and woolly game, they would have needed Edmonton to lose Friday to Calgary to complete their back-door entry into the post-season.
Hamilton had beaten Winnipeg the previous week to remain alive in the playoff hunt. But in a game where Toronto — secure in its playoff schedule — rested 10 regulars and had another starter sidelined by suspension, the Tiger-Cats made life difficult for themselves.
Henry Burris threw for 497 yards and four touchdowns but also had two interceptions. The Ticats also gave up two fumbles.
"We gave them points," said Burris. "In a game of this magnitude you can't have that happen."
"I applaud the players' efforts but we had far too many mistakes tonight," echoed grim-faced coach George Cortez.
"We did dig ourselves a hole," he added. "We got to the lip of the cup, but we didn't get out of the cup."
Thanks in part to an interception returned for a TD, the visitors were 20-3 down before the first quarter was done.
"Pretty much sums up our season," said linebacker Rey Williams.
"Seems like we didn't get any breaks," added Burris. "Just little details, errors, mistakes. More mental mistakes than anything else, that's killed us all year.
"At the end of the day, this was pretty much our season in a nutshell. We've shown great flashes and done some great things, but when you have too many little things that add up at the end, that usually haunts you at the end of the day."
As Toronto dug deeper into its bench, Hamilton mounted yet another comeback in the fourth quarter with two late touchdowns. At 40-40, it seemed like the game was going to overtime. But third-string quarterback Zach Collaros — fourth-string if you count normal starter Ricky Ray, who was in street clothes on the sidelines — did enough to bring Waters into field goal range with no time on the clock.
"This is something you never want to get used to," Burris said. "A lot of guys in this room are used to do nothing but winning and playing in the playoffs.
"This is a tough pill to swallow. Toronto gave us opportunities to win tonight but it's like we didn't take advantage of them and we constantly gave it back to them and gave them chances to win."
After clawing its way back to 3-2 following two losses to start the season, Hamilton closed out with a 3-10 run. And it finishes with a 1-8 away record, an ominous sign for a franchise without a home stadium next season.
The early exit is a poor result for a season with some eye-popping individual statistics.
Receiver-returner Chris Williams hauled in two passes for TDs, for a club-record 17.
Burris finished with a club-record 42 touchdown passes, becoming one of only five CFL quarterbacks to throw for more than 40 TDs in a season.
But now they are just numbers. And players like Williams are left looking at a "long laundry list" of problems.
"All types of stuff. But the biggest thing is I don't think we ever got on the same page for whatever reason. We couldn't put games together. Inconsistent."
For Burris, missing out on the playoffs at 37 is especially painful.
"You never want to let these opportunities pass because you never can get them back. And at the end of the day when you look back, all you're going to say is 'What if?'"
Cortez, meanwhile, refused to get drawn into a debate over the relative strength of the Toronto team on the night.
"I don't care who you're playing against. The loss is a loss."
And he wasn't much for looking back at the season.
"We lost three games in a row on the last play of the game. Obviously if those were three wins, we'd be in a different situation right now."
Burris said effort was never at a issue. Spurts of bad football sank the club.
"When we're playing good football, we look good. But we play bad, it's well evident. That's something we've had to battle against all year and, at the end of the day, it bit us in the rear."