TORONTO – Week Six in the Canadian Football League pits the Eastern Division-leading Toronto Argonauts (3-1) against their longtime provincial adversaries, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-2).
The “Battle of Ontario” is one of the oldest and most celebrated rivalries in North American professional sports, and on Monday night, in Hamilton, this notoriously contentious feud will be reborn for the first time in 2015.
Monday night’s game against the Tabbies marks the conclusion of a lengthy month-long road swing for the Double Blue. The Argonauts, led by fourth-year pivot Trevor Harris, are off to their best start since 2010, and possess one of the CFL’s most potent offences.
In the absence of incumbent signal caller Ricky Ray, Harris has emerged as one of the CFL’s premier quarterbacks. The 29-year-old Waldo, Ohio native currently leads the Canadian Football League with 11 passing touchdowns and boasts a league-best passer efficiency rating of 114.1. Moreover, Harris’ 74.8% completion rate is tops amongst all qualified field generals.
Last week, in Vancouver, Harris, the CFL’s reigning Player of the Month, guided the Argonauts to an improbable 30-27 comeback victory over the B.C. Lions. After throwing a pair of interceptions in the opening quarter, and with his team trailing by 21 points, Harris seized control of the game, completing 30 of his 40 pass attempts for 340 yards and two touchdowns.
With momentum seemingly on their side, the Argos march into Hamilton looking to spoil the Tiger-Cats’ highly anticipated home opener.
“(It’s a) great test for us,” stated Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich. “They’re talented… in all three phases. I don’t see a weakness there. They’ve never been beaten in their stadium. For us to go in there and try to get a win will be a big test.”
To date, the Tabbies are undefeated (7-0) at Tim Hortons Field. Kent Austin’s squad enters this week’s inter-division showdown coming off a commanding 31-21 victory over the woeful Saskatchewan Roughriders.
In his return to the Tiger-Cats’ starting lineup, running back C.J. Gable exploded for 135 yards rushing on 20 carries, providing Hamilton with a balanced offensive attack.
“He’s a good football player, so he makes us a better football team,” commented Austin following a recent Ticats’ practice. “He comes to play every week and he’s a complete football player. He does a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed, (little things) that helps our team win.”
The ‘Cats’ 27-year-old tailback poses a significant challenge for the Argos’ defensive front seven. The Boatmen’s linebacking trio of Greg Jones, Cory Greenwood, and Brandon Isaac will be pitted with the responsibility of containing Gable, limiting his production along the ground and through the air.
At the helm of the Ticats’ offence is none other than former Argonauts signal caller Zach Collaros. The 26-year-old Steubenville, Ohio native spent the first two years of his CFL career in Toronto, where he, along with the aforementioned Trevor Harris, served as understudies to three-time Grey Cup champion Ricky Ray.
“Zach’s a great quarterback,” declared Harris, graciously heaping praise on his former teammate. “I have a ton of respect for him. He’s a great friend of mine, too, so it’ll be fun.”
Defensively, the Argonauts rank in the top-third of seven different statistical categories, including average yards per rush (4.5) and fewest first downs (81). The Argos’ youthful secondary will have their hands full as they match up against the Ticats’ multi-faceted receiving core.
Through four games, Andy Fantuz and Bakari Grant have combined for 44 receptions, resulting in 537 yards and one touchdown. For the second consecutive week, Argonauts sophomore defensive back Vincent Agnew will start at safety, as he continues to fill in for the injured Jermaine Gabriel.
Tiger-Cats slotback/kick returner Brandon Banks is arguably one of, if not, the most explosive playmakers in the Canadian Football League. Simply put, the 27-year-old speedster is a game-changer.
The Argos’ kick coverage units will need to remain disciplined in order to avoid yielding a momentum-shifting kick return touchdown.
Schematics aside, Argonauts bench boss Scott Milanovich is looking forward to leading his team into hostile territory and says he is embracing being the “underdog”.
“To my understanding, everybody believes they’re going to win, which is fine by me. I like to be the underdog,” proclaimed Milanovich. “We have nothing to lose… Our guys are going to go out there, cut it loose, and see where we stack up.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST. The game can be viewed live on TSN or heard on TSN 1050 Radio.
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