TORONTO – The Toronto Argonauts began their quest for back-to-back Grey Cup titles on Friday night as they kicked off their 2013 campaign with a thrilling 39-34 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Rogers Centre.
The Boatmen celebrated and reflected upon their storybook 2012 season with a special 100th Grey Cup championship banner ceremony prior to kickoff. The team also showcased their 10kt white gold Grey Cup rings as part of the pre-game festivities.
The Boatmen will look for more consistency in 2013 as the team logged a respectable regular season record of 9-9 a year ago. Offensively, Ricky Ray is entering his second season as a member of the Argonauts and came into Friday’s contest looking to improve upon his 0-for-3 passing performance in the Argonauts’ final pre-season game against the Montreal Alouettes.
Defensively, the Argonauts will sport a much different look in 2013. Cornerback Patrick Watkins is the only returning starter from last year’s secondary while the defensive line boasts a completely new line-up.
As for the Tiger-Cats, Kent Austin is entering his first season at the helm in Hamilton. Austin’s coaching philosophy preaches fast-paced, high-intensity football, and places great emphasis on mental preparation. Two familiar faces returned to the Rogers Centre on Friday night as former Argonauts defensive backs coach Orlondo Steinauer is entering his first season as the Tiger-Cats’ defensive coordinator. Former Argonaut defensive back Evan McCollough is also entering his first season with Hamilton and both men will certainly have a significant role in turning around a Tiger-Cats defence that surrendered the most points in the entire Canadian Football League in 2012.
However, it was the Argonauts’ offence that opened the scoring on Friday night as Ricky Ray orchestrated an impressive six-play, 83-yard drive capped off by Jason Barnes’ 8-yard touchdown reception.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tiger-Cats rookie sensation Lindsey Lamar responded as he burst free up the sidelines for a sensational 104-yard kickoff return touchdown, knotting the game at 7-7.
Lamar has assumed the Tiger-Cats’ kick and punt return duties as 2012 CFL Special Teams Player of the Year Chris Williams has committed to holding out for the 2013 season. In Hamilton’s two pre-season games, Lamar registered two kick return touchdowns.
The Argonauts regained the lead on their ensuing offensive possession as kicker Swayze Waters missed a 47-yard field goal, resulting in a rouge, giving the Argos an 8-7 lead.
In a back-and-forth first quarter, the Tiger-Cats reclaimed the lead as quarterback Henry Burris connected with running back C.J. Gable for a 9-yard score, giving Hamilton a 14-8 lead.
Argonauts defensive back Nekos Brown was penalized for unnecessary roughness, giving the Tiger-Cats favourable field position deep in Argonauts territory. The touchdown reception was Gable’s first of his CFL career as a defensive lapse in coverage allowed Henry Burris to find his rookie running back wide open in the end zone.
A scary moment later on in the first quarter as Argonauts slotback and 2012 CFL Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens was down on the turf for several minutes after taking a hit to the head from Tiger-Cats defensive back Delvin Breaux. Fortunately for the Boatmen, Owens missed just one snap and showed no ill-effects from the hard collision.
With just over a minute remaining in the opening quarter, the Tiger-Cats extended their lead as quarterback Henry Burris connected with wide receiver Andy Fantuz for a 64-yard touchdown. Burris was 3-for-3 on the touchdown drive as the Tiger-Cats extended their lead to 21-8.
The Argonauts quickly responded as Chad Kackert capped off a four-play, 74-yard drive with a 57-yard touchdown run. The 2012 Grey Cup MVP burst through the Hamilton defensive front and rumbled down the sidelines for his first score of 2013, cutting the Argonauts’ deficit to 21-15.
The Tiger-Cats responded once again with a scoring drive of their own as Henry Burris orchestrated a methodical 11-play, 51-yard drive capped off by Luca Congi’s 21-yard field goal, putting the Tiger-Cats ahead 24-15.
The offensive dominance continued as the Argonauts responded with an emphatic 73-yard touchdown reception from wide receiver Jason Barnes. The touchdown was Barnes’ second of the half as he was left wide open near midfield and jogged into the end zone, cutting the Tiger-Cats lead to 24-22.
Barnes finished the game with four receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
The Argonauts later reclaimed the lead as kicker Swayze Waters connected on a 44-yard field goal, putting the Boatmen ahead 25-24.
As had been the story for a majority of the first half, the Tiger-Cats once again responded with a scoring drive of their own as Henry Burris registered his third touchdown pass of the game, putting the Ticats back in front 31-25 heading into halftime.
The big play on the drive came courtesy of rookie wide receiver Greg Ellingson who rumbled 37 yards deep into Argonauts territory. Ellingson added another reception on the drive prior to C.J. Gable marching into the end zone with a six-yard touchdown reception.
Greg Ellingson finished his CFL debut with six receptions for 120 yards. Running back C.J. Gable concluded his debut with four carries for 23 yards, four receptions for 30 yards, and two touchdowns.
A frightening sight for Argonaut fans as kicker Swayze Waters came up injured on the opening kickoff of the second half. Waters remained down for several minutes and did not play in the remainder of the football game.
The Tiger-Cats continued to add on to their lead as Luca Congi connected on a 40-yard field goal, putting the Tiger-Cats ahead 34-25 early on in the third quarter.
With Swayze Waters out of the game due to injury, the Argonauts offence was forced to play three-down football. Ricky Ray orchestrated a magnificent four-play, 75-yard drive capped off Spencer Watt’s 20-yard touchdown reception. The touchdown was Watt’s second reception on the drive and came in a third down situation. Due to Waters’ injury, Watt was thrust back into action to kick the Argonauts’ extra point.
Dontrelle Inman and Alexander Robinson also stepped in and assisted in the team’s punt and kicking duties.
The Argonauts recaptured the lead in the fourth quarter as Ricky Ray connected with Dontrelle Inman in the corner of the end zone to put the Argonauts ahead 39-34. The play was reviewed and was ultimately ruled a touchdown as Inman was able to get his right foot onto the turf prior to going out of bounds.
With 30 seconds remaining on the clock, the Tiger-Cats received possession of the football on their own 44-yard line. Henry Burris connected on back-to-back passes, setting up the Tiger-Cats at the Toronto 13-yard line. Following a Khalif Mitchell offside penalty, Hamilton lined up at the Argonauts’ 8-yard line with only three seconds remaining on the clock. Burris’ ensuing pass attempt fell incomplete in the end zone as Jalil Carter knocked away the ball, securing the 39-34 victory for the Argonauts.
The Battle of Ontario has proven to produce many high-scoring, back-and-forth affairs in recent years and Friday night’s game was no different. In their past five meetings, there has been at least 60 combined points scored in each meeting between the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts.
Final Stat Line
Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray looked in mid-season form on Friday night as he completed 24-of-34 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns. With 42 more passing yards, Ray will eclipse the 45,000-yard mark for his CFL career, a feat that could be accomplished as early as next week against B.C.
Running back Chad Kackert registered his first 100-yard game of 2013 as he concluded Friday’sseason opener with 112 yards rushing and one touchdown.
Reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens led the way in the receiving game for the Argonauts as he recorded nine receptions for 95 yards. Owens also added 92 yards on kick returns and 48 yards on punt returns.
As for the Tiger-Cats, quarterback Henry Burris concluded Friday’s game 24-for-36 with 361 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Andy Fantuz and Greg Ellingson each registered 100-yard receiving games. Fantuz finished with 10 receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, neither team registered a turnover. The Tiger-Cats entered Friday night’s game with high expectations as the team hopes to improve upon their dreadful pass defence from a season ago.
As for the Argonauts, their new-look defensive line and youthful secondary failed to contain veteran quarterback Henry Burris and Hamilton’s explosive offence.
Burris and Ray combined for a staggering 729 yards passing and seven touchdowns.
The Argonauts 39-34 victory marks the team’s fourth consecutive win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats dating back to last year’s Labour Day Classic.