TORONTO – Though most of us are sad to see the summer come to an end, CFL fans are always excited for Labour Day weekend and the compelling games that are on the schedule. The “Battle of the QEW” is always one of the more entertaining games and this season should be no different. Both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts sit atop the Eastern Division with identical 6-3 records. If Toronto is going to make it back-to-back losses for the Tabbies at their vaunted “Donut Box”, these will be the five keys to the game:
1. The Flyin’ Hawaiian takes Flight again
Argonauts slotback Chad Owens has been out of the lineup since August 3, when Toronto and Hamilton last met, in an Argo loss. Getting Owens back into the lineup adds some more wrinkles for the offence and forces Hamilton’s defence to be aware of where he is on the field at all times. Owens has the ability to take a short pass or run all the way to the house for touchdowns anytime he touches the ball. With Hamilton likely needing to focus on Owens and potentially rolling coverage’s his way, it could open up things for the Argos’ big trio of wideouts. In a losing effort on August 3rd, the Argos’ big three (Hazelton, Gurley, and Elliot) combined for 19 catches, 225 yards and two touchdowns. That was with Chad Owens missing most of the game. Now that Owens should be back for a full 60 minutes of football, the Argonauts’ offence could just be starting to hit their stride that will surely be needed against a stout Ticat defence. If Toronto is able to move the ball and put up points at ease, it should be an exciting afternoon for the Boatmen.
2. Trevor Harris vs Zach Collaros
For just the second time in their young careers, former teammates, Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris, will battle it out as opponents, leading their teams into battle. Each quarterback is having an MVP-like season and they’re both looking to continue that success heading into the backend of the season. Both Harris and Collaros have started and played nine games this season, with Harris boasting a 74.4% completion rate to go along with 2,453 yards passing and 19 touchdowns. Collaros has almost identical stats, completing 70.4% of his passes for 2,632 yards and 18 touchdowns. Both men are putting points up on the board with ease, and more importantly, they’re both protecting the football. Whichever quarterback does just that in Monday’s game will likely help their team be victorious and claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern division.
3. Argos with a clean bill of health
Chad Owens isn’t the only name back with the Argos after being injured. The past few weeks have seen the return of Jeff Keeping, Jermaine Gabriel, Cory Greenwood, Brandon Whitaker and Swayze Waters. That should be great news for the Boatmen and their fans, as getting healthy at the right time, when you already have a winning record, could be huge down the stretch. The last time Toronto and Hamilton met, none of these men either played in the game or finished the game before being injured. Toronto must stay healthy from here on out and getting these key veterans back now is likely going to add a spark to the Argonauts. Guys like Keeping, Owens, and Gabriel understand what the Labour Day Classic is all about and having their experience could be crucial come Monday afternoon. With Toronto being healthy and Hamilton missing some players that have been big contributors so far, Monday may be the day Toronto takes the lead in the East and never lets it go.
4. Missing faces in Hamilton
The Ticats have also encountered the injury bug. Starters Andy Fantuz, Eric Norwood, Jonny Sears Jr., Byron Archambault, and Mike Daly are all out for the Labour Day Classic on Monday afternoon. Those are some key names and leaders on the Ticats’ roster that will be missing. Hamilton is one of the better teams in the league in terms of depth, but it is hard to replace that many starters for such a key matchup. Toronto should be looking to take advantage of the missing players, but Tiger-Cats head coach, Kent Austin is one of the best in scheming his players into good positions and never putting too much on his players. Hamilton will always put out one of the toughest defence’s in the league and even though they’re missing some key players, Toronto cannot afford to take them lightly on Monday. If the Argos can change things up schematically and confuse the newer players, they’ll give themselves a very good shot at winning the game.
5. The Argonauts’ Defensive Line
Toronto currently sits third in the CFL in sacks with a majority of those coming in the last few weeks. It has taken a while, but the Argos’ defensive line finally seems to be playing as the All-Star unit they believed they could be. It is led by the veteran, Ricky Foley, who enters his third Labour Day Classic as a member of the Double Blue. He currently sits with four sacks on the season. His defensive end partner is Tristian Okpalaugo, who leads the Argos with five sacks on the season. If these two men, along with Euclid Cummings and Cleyon Laing, can rush the passer and contain Collaros from leaving the pocket, it will slow down the top-ranked passing attack in the league. This defensive line has all the potential in the world and Monday is a true test for them. Being able to make Collaros uncomfortable and not allow Hamilton to do what they do best, will get the Ticats out of sync and could create some turnover opportunities for the Argos’ opportunistic defence. Big players make big plays in big games, and so far this season, no game has been bigger than the upcoming Labour Day Classic. Expect to see a lot of Ricky Foley and his pass-rushing proteges in the backfield come Monday, which should help the Argos earn a much-needed win en route to first place in the East.
Written By: Aaron McMillan
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @Awin_McMiwan3