MONTREAL - Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli feels the Tiger-Cats are playing their best football of the year and could have challenged for the Grey Cup if not for a lousy start to the season.
The Tiger-Cats made easy work of the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday afternoon, winning 43-16 in a game where both teams were already eliminated from playoff contention.
Hamilton improved to 5-3 under coach June Jones since starting the season 0-8.
"We still have a lot of potential,'' said Masoli. "We're a really good football team right now. I know we're not in the playoffs, but if we were in, we really believe that we (would have) had a chance of taking that championship.
"That's our fault though. We didn't win enough games to get in. And that's it.''
Masoli, making his eighth consecutive start for the Tiger-Cats, threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns - one to Mike Jones and another to Brandon Banks. Masoli has now thrown for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Banks also scored a touchdown on a punt return, his first of the season, and Alex Green added a rushing TD for the Tiger-Cats (5-11). Kicker Kenny Allen converted five field goals.
"I was hoping we could get a win like this to get some confidence, to start getting that real belief that you can beat anybody,'' said coach Jones. "I saw it today a little bit. Jeremiah stepped up and made some big throws when we needed him.''
Montreal (3-13) extended its losing streak to nine games in its final home game of the season. It is the longest single-season losing streak for the Alouettes since 1981.
Darian Durant connected with Ernest Jackson in the end zone in the first quarter and Tyrell Sutton had a rushing touchdown late in the fourth.
The Alouettes are 0-5 since general manager Kavis Reed replaced Jacques Chapdelaine as head coach.
"It's disappointing we didn't give our fans a home win in our last game,'' said Reed. "It's been a very difficult season and we're proud of the fans that supported us, but we're apologetic for not providing them with a better football game.''
Durant went 8 for 14 for 92 passing yards and an interception in the first half. Matthew Shiltz replaced Durant for the second half and was 15 for 22 for 189 yards and an interception.
"We probably know where Darian slots in terms of what we think about the future,'' said Reed. "However, the quarterback position is still essentially a question mark.''
After Allen kicked an early field goal for the visitors, Durant got the Als on the board with a 15-yard touchdown toss to Jackson, the receiver's sixth of the season, at 9:15 of the first quarter.
Hamilton then scored 40 unanswered points, starting with back-to-back field goals from Allen, including his season long from 48 yards out.
Leading 9-7, Banks returned a Boris Bede punt 65 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown at 5:43 of the second.
"It got us going,'' said Banks of his game-changing punt return. "The offence started out a little slow, but it got us a momentum boost. I just tried to find a hole and the 11 other guys did a hell of a job blocking for me.''
Allen added his fourth field goal of the afternoon to make it 19-7 before Masoli found Jones in the end zone for a 14-yard score.
Masoli then went deep at 10:12 of the third quarter, finding a streaking Banks for a 65-yard TD to give Hamilton a 33-7 lead.
Allen kicked another field goal, his fifth of the game, to start the fourth quarter. Green made it 43-7 with a four-yard touchdown run at 4:33.
With time winding down on the game, the 20,184 at Percival Molson Stadium booed their team for botching a 21-yard field goal.
Montreal finally gave the crowd something to cheer about when Sutton scored a rushing TD with 2:20 remaining on the clock.
Hamilton hosts the Als once more this year, on the last week of the season.
Notes: The 1977 Grey Cup-winning Alouettes team was honoured at halftime. ... Montreal has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.