TORONTO – The most intriguing aspect of Friday’s night Labour Day Classic rematch was not only could this be the last visit to the Dome by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but more importantly the Ti-Cats had a chance to sweep the three game series versus the Toronto Argonauts and pronounce themselves as the best in the East by a long shot. They left Toronto pushing the Argos into a very distant second place spot by winning in a closely fought battle played before a crowd of Argo diehards and a strong showing of support from the Hamilton fans.
After Labour Day Monday’s blowout the Argos were looking for redemption and early in the game it seemed like the Double Blue were going to make it a grinding affair. Their notoriously slow starts saw them tied with the Cats at the end of the first quarter in a 7-7 tie. Not a bad start considering their inability to get at Zach Collaros the QB for Hamilton. When they did get at him it was usually at the expense of a penalty flag and once again at home the Argos 16 penalties in the game frustrated the coaching staff and fans. The defensive line tried to contain and spy on the Hamilton offensive leader and for the most part he was contained. This was at the expense of seeing his receivers work themselves open against an Argo defensive unit that is still missing two key players at LB in Corey Greenwood and Brandon Isaac. That extra time allowed Collaros to work in sync with the elusive Luke Tasker and former Argo Terrell Sinkfield.
The second quarter was the difference where the Tabbies put up 12 points and shut out the Argos. Trevor Harris struggled at times but was able to bounce back in the second half with a quick tempo game plan that put Hamilton on notice that it was going to be an even tougher second half. The key difference between these two teams is that Hamilton can dial a big play on a consistent basis while the Argos struggle at times to get that big play that turns the table in the field position game.
For the Argos the third quarter was an aggressive start that capitalized on big plays that were needed when Swayze Waters had to leave the game. This called up Trevor Harris to make some big plays on 3rd down and they were successful in keeping a drive alive on 3rd down and then Trevor Harris followed it up with a 42 yard TD pass to Tori Gurley. Coach Milanovich had an easier decision to make knowing that Dave Stala his replacement would be hard pressed to win the field position battle so a 3rd down gamble was the key to getting the Argos back in the game down 19-13 after a failed 2 pt. convert. Another Argo drive lead by Harris where he improvised some great scrambles lead the Argos to get within a 22-20 score while limiting their reliance on Stala who for the second time this year was on a relief kicking role.
The Dome was buzzing as Argo fans were dealing with the Tabbie faithful but the big second half would be derailed as the Ti-Cats scored on a response drive and then the ensuing Argo drive stalled and meant that Stala would be punting. The Argos blocking scheme wasn’t prepared for an aggressive Tiger-Cat push and a blocked Stala punt would put Hamilton in great field position. The Argos defence bent but did not break and even though it held Justin Medlock to a field goal it sealed the victory for the visitors.
The post game review will be a long one for the Argos that have a bye week and the Argonaut coaching staff will start to prepare for their next game in Ottawa but in the back of their mind they have to start preparing a game plan for Hamilton who more than likely will be hosting the East Final. The defence might be a 100% in a couple weeks so that clears up one injury issue. The Waters injury is a difficult one as his previous replacement Ronnie Pfeffer signed with the REDBLACKS after his Argo release. The Argonauts 16 penalties could easily be debated among a few soft calls by the officials but that doesn’t wipe the slate clean. They need to address this issue so they can win their close games against quality opponents. Offensively Trevor Harris was and has been steady and last night saw both Whitaker and Kackert in the backfield. Kackert was limited to three rushes and four touches but also found some success of kick-off returns. Whitaker had six rushes and seven touches but right now a game plan highlighting both of them looks like a difficult proposition in a pass first offence.
Coach Scott Milanovich talked about making Hamilton earn their victory but for football players a loss still stings especially when it’s your 3rd loss to division rival Hamilton in a season when you are 6 and 5. We know that Milanovich is more new school than old school so don’t expect players to get cut to send a message about losing or taking penalties but they have some work to do on September 26th to put an end to this three game losing streak.
By Peter T. Kourtis