Quarterback Henry Burris stood in a somber locker room lamenting a 2012 Hamilton Tiger-Cats team that didn't consistently gel, one that showed incredible moments of execution and cohesion, but was ultimately defined by the losing blunders instead.
Despite a fourth-quarter comeback, four costly turnovers helped Hamilton lose a must-win regular-season finale to the Toronto Argonauts, 43-40 on Thursday, eliminating them from the postseason.
The loss was even more incomprehensible considering Toronto, already in the playoffs, was using some second and third stringers -- including backup quarterback Jarious Jackson in place of the resting Ricky Ray and little-known young pivots Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros.
The Tabbies finish 6-12 and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the year they finished 3-15. It's the first season Burris will not be in the CFL playoffs since he returned from a season with the National Football League's Green Bay Packers in 2001.
In the first quarter, Hamilton struggled just to get a first down. Argos defensive back Jordan Younger picked off a Burris pass that was intended for Andy Fantuz and returned it for a touchdown.
Then on a trick play, Jackson tossed the ball to Argos receiver Chad Owens, who threw his first CFL pass, 49 yards to Spencer Watt, which set up the Argos' next touchdown -- a Jackson pass to receiver Dontrelle Inman.
Owens set a new pro football record for most combined yards in a single season with 3,863, surpassing former Argonaut Michael 'Pinball' Clemens' record of 3,840 yards. The game was stopped in the second quarter, and Owens was met by his family, Clemens, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and Argos general manager Jim Barker to commemorate the accomplishment at midfield.
Receiver Chris Williams answered for the Ticats in the second quarter, hauling in Burris pass to rumbling 93 yards into the endzone for his 16th touchdown on the year, which set a Ticats single-season record. Burris became one of just five quarterbacks in CFL history to toss over 40 touchdown passes in a season, and it seemed like Hamilton could take control.
But then Burris fumbled, and the Argos recovered. Toronto running back Gerald Riggs plunged in from one-yard out to put the Boatmen further ahead.
But the Ticats still showed flickers, Burris hitting Aaron Kelly for a touchdown late in the second quarter. But Younger stunted that momentum when he grabbed his second pick of the game. Collaros, a fourth-stringer with virtually no Argos experience, hit receiver Sammy Tranks with a touchdown pass.
Congi chipped away with field goals to bring the Ticats closer. Fantuz fumbled, and the Argos recovered, but Hamilton kept coming. Burris hit Avon Cobourne with a fourth quarter three-yard touchdown pass to bring the Hamilton within a touchdown, then hit Williams with another score to tie it with just over a minute to go in the fourth quarter. But Swayze Waters hit a 51-yard field goal for a Toronto win as time expired.
"At the end of the day, this game was pretty much our season in a nutshell," said Burris, blaming himself for the two interceptions. "We've showed great flashes and done some great things, but when you have too many little things that add up at the end of the day, those usually haunt you."
Hamilton's team had been so inconsistent over the season, coming out with sensational high-octane, big-scoring offence at times, leading to dominant victories, but rarely going on winning streaks. They staved off elimination last weekend with a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the final game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. But not on Thursday.
"There was a lot of disappointment.," said Ticats coach George Cortez, re-iterating the significance of the four turnovers. "I was surprised by the number of mistakes we made tonight."
In the results department it's a step backwards for Hamitlon, who were 8-10 in 2011 and upset the Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern Semi-final before losing out the Bombers in the East Final. They then fired coach Marcel Bellefeuille, hired George Cortez and got Burris and Fantuz. Hamilton was one of the highest-scoring teams in the league throughout most of 2012, yet they couldn't muster a winning record.
"So many of the guys here are used to being in the playoffs and playing for the Grey Cup, and especially with the 100th being played right in our backyard, it's a tough pill to swallow. Even tougher is that each year that passes is one less year I'll have to play in it, so you never want to let these opportunities pass because you never get them back. When you look back, all you can say is 'what if?'.
The Argos finish 9-9 and will get a cross-over opponent as host of the East Semi-final on Nov. 11. Toronto will face Edmonton if either Edmonton loses to the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night or if the Esks win and the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the B.C. Lions on Saturday. However, an Edmonton win paired with a Saskatchewan loss would mean the Esks take the third playoff spot in the West and the Riders play Toronto.