There was a time when winning on Labour Day was all that mattered.
During those wilderness years, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats struggled to win even a handful of games, the annual rivalry game with the Toronto Argonauts on summer’s last stand was one potential positive in a season full of bad mojo.
This team is well beyond that now, of course – winning the Ballard Cup takes on less importance when you’re chasing Lord Grey’s hardware – but there were still more than a few demons exorcised on a steamy Monday afternoon as the Ticats laid a 42-12 beat down on the Double Blue. The team was coming of a bad loss to the Montreal Alouettes 11 days ago that left an exceedingly bitter taste in the team’s collective water bottle.
“We needed some time off and our players were mature enough to take advantage of that time off, not get lazy in their preparation, ” said head coach Kent Austin said. “They were ready to play today.”
There was a sly smile on Austin’s face as he said it, as if he knew just how badly he’d understated his team’s performance. They were dominant in every phase of the football game, racking up 502 yards of offence while holding the Argos to just 242, winning the turnover battle 3-1 and dominating the time of possession.
Quarterback Zach Collaros led the way, throwing for 400 yards and launching four touchdown passes. Luke Tasker had seven catches for 105 yards while Terrell Sinkfeld had two TD catches.
Collaros seemed to relish sticking it to his old squad.
“I started off there and there’s no hard feelings – I love (Argo head coach) Scott Milanovich.
“But I think anyone would be lying if they weren’t amped up to be playing against their old teammates and organization, ” he said.
After last week’s struggles against Montreal, the Ticats went back to their old script of blowing the doors off visitors to Tim Hortons Field. After the Argos registered the game’s first point off a punt single, Hamilton responded with 27 straight in an onslaught that lasted almost three quarters. Toronto sort of threatened to make a game of it in the fourth but the Hamilton offence laid the hammer down again, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the last three minutes.
And they did it using the run game, something they’ve struggled with for much of this season. Ray Holley finished with 84 yards on nine carries, including a 40-yard dash in the fourth that left the crowd chanting his name.
“That was pretty cool, ” Collaros said. “I think they think he’s Canadian.”
The crowd was anything but cool, of course, braving a blazing afternoon sun and scorching temperatures. And yet they were at their full-throated best, creating the raucous, rowdy environment that has come to personify Labour Day (and pretty much any other day in this new barn, too).
“For the players and coaches to know that when they show up for a game that it will be sold out is a huge boost psychologically, ” Austin said. “It makes the hard work worthwhile.”
And there is still work to do. Austin has been relentless in his pursuit of improvement, praising performance while guarding against the complacency that would threaten a squad as talented as this one. The Ticats are 7-3 and now in sole possession of first place in the East Division. More importantly, they won the season series against the Argos and will hold the advantage in any season-ending tiebreakers.
But these two teams meet again next Friday in Toronto and one expects the Argonauts to be looking to restore a measure of their pride (and a share of first in the East.) There was plenty of tough talk and rough play in this one with 31 penalties called, including nine for unnecessary roughness.
“It was to be expected, especially when it gets out of hand, ” Tasker said. “It’s kind of a last resort for a team that’s down like that.”
Penalties aside, it was a successful Labour Day by any measure. The Ticats beat the Argos and that always feels good, said defensive end Justin Hickman.
“I love this rivalry.”