During the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ final on-field session before the Labour Day Classic, defensive tackle Bryan Hall wore the gold practice jersey belonging to quarterback Zach Collaros. The next day, Collaros strafed the Argos for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-12 victory.
Not a coincidence, says Hall.
“Zach had a hell of game once I blessed myself into his jersey,” Hall said Thursday, as he once again sported the rather snug-fitting No. 4. “I don’t think he washes it all. I think he just lets my man-sweat of greatness soak into his jersey, then he goes out and plays great.”
Collaros, Hall’s man-sweat and the rest of the Ticats travel to Toronto on Friday for the backside of a home-and-home set, trying to accomplish something that’s proven historically difficult to do: sweep both games.
The two teams have performed the Labour Day duo a half-dozen times since 2005 and the Ticats have yet to win both games: they’ve split the series three times and been swept on three other occasions. Hamilton is hardly alone: leaguewide, sweeps in back-to-back games only happens about 30 per cent of the time.
During Kent Austin’s tenure, however, the Ticats have been mostly excellent in back-to-back games against the same opponent. They’ve been swept once, split once and delivered both wins three times — including a pair of must-win games against Montreal at the tail end of last season.
“We don’t put a lot of focus on the other team, we try and monitor our expectations of our football team,” the Ticat head coach/GM said. “We know the level we are capable of playing and we’ll monitor that more than intensity of the other team.
“Players will naturally respond to (the intensity).”
Having been embarrassed on Labour Day, the Argos will be supremely motivated to not only restore their pride, but regain a share of the East Division lead. Hamilton already owns the season series between the two clubs, so Toronto can hardly afford to fall two games behind in the standings.
“Defensively, we definitely let them off the hook with a few things,” said Toronto defensive end Ricky Foley. “If we had of watched the film and been like ‘these guys just whupped us’ and there was nothing we could do to stop it, that’s a problem.
“After we watched the film, we realized that a lot of it was us.”
Monday’s affair was a chippy one with 31 total penalties called, included nine for unnecessary roughness, and the teams combined for another 30 during their first matchup in August (also a Ticat victory). As Labour Day slipped away, the Argos tried to get under Hamilton’s skin, but Austin said his team has to be more disciplined.
“We talked about it right after the game. We don’t want to bethatteam,” Austin said. “We want to be a team that plays hard, plays aggressive, plays physical, but plays between the whistles and doesn’t get caught up in those types of things.”
Still, Austin acknowledges there’s a fine line between protecting your teammate — as the Ticats were doing when they took three unnecessary roughness penalties after one play in the third quarter on Monday — and taking foolish flags.
“Listen, I was an emotional player and we understand as coaches that if something happens, it’s hard not to retaliate,” Austin said. “The most important thing is that the initial action should be curbed, so we don’t have to worry about the subsequent action.”
With the Ticats facing back-to-back games on short rest against a divisional opponent in desperation mode, it would be easy for Hamilton to let up just a little. The man in the golden jersey says that’s not happening.
“We can make all the excuses in the world not to play well, but that’s not what we do,” Hall said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-3) at Toronto Argonauts (6-4)
7:30 p.m. Friday, Rogers Centre
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150
The storyline for Toronto:
After losing the Labour Day Classic 42-12 to Hamilton, the Argos are one game behind them in the East Division standings but have already lost the season series (the Ticats also beat Toronto in August.) A loss on Friday would put a major dent in Toronto’s hopes of winning the East Division and earning a first-round playoff bye. Plus, they got thumped. They need to respond.
The loss of Canadian linebacker Cory Greenwood is big — the Argos would likely have changed their ratio had it not been for the short week. Instead, James Yuirchuk gets the start — the eighth of his seven-year CFL career.
Five funky Toronto stats:
•In their six wins this season, the Argonauts have outscored opponents 79-33 in the fourth quarter (plus-46). In their four defeats, Toronto has been outscored 39-12 (minus-27) in the final frame.
•Last week against Hamilton, Trevor Harris threw 211 yards and has now thrown for 200-plus yards in nine of the Argos’ 10 games this season.
•In the first six games of 2015, the Argos averaged 371 yards offence per game and registered 16 offensive touchdowns. In the last four games: 249 yards per game, eight offensive scores.
•The Argonaut defence held the Ticats to just one two-and-out on Labour Day.
•The Argo D has surrendered a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns.
The storyline for Hamilton:
The Ticats are 7-3 and can open up a two-game lead atop the East Division — if they can avoid a letdown after the emotional high of Labour Day. Quarterback Zach Collaros continues his MOP-calibre season, leading the CFL in most of the statistically-relevant categories for QBs. Hamilton fans often travel well to the Rogers Centre, making for an interesting, somewhat conflicted, atmosphere.
Key injuries and potential roster changes:
Rico Murray is out with a lower body injury, so veteran Brandon Stewart takes his spot at the boundary half — the Argos may look to test him early. Defensive back Cleshawn Page comes on in a reserve role. Guard Ryan Bomben, who missed last week, is back on the roster and will likely play. Canadian running back Anthony Woodson returns from injury, moving American Nic Grigsby to the practice roster so the team can get another special teamer on the roster in linebacker David Caldwell. Canadian defensive tackle Mike Atkinson has been added to the six-game injury list so Hasan Hazime will back up Ted Laurent.
Five funky Hamilton stats:
•Quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns on Monday versus Toronto, the first time since 2012 that a CFL QB had thrown for 400-plus yards and four scores in the same game. It’s happened only nine times in the last five years.
•Collaros is averaging more than 300 yards per game and is on pace to be the CFL’s first 5,000-yard passer since 2012.
•The Ticats are on pace to finish atop the East Division for the second consecutive season. The last time the Tiger-Cats finished in first place two seasons in a row was back in 1980 and ’81.
•Last week versus the Argos, the Ticats averaged 12.8 yards on 22 second down plays.
•Ticat kicker Justin Medlock now ranks first overall among field goal kickers with at least 150 attempts, an 87.1-per-cent accuracy rate. He is 95-for-97 from 40-yards or less in his career.
TSN play-by-play: Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor with Matt Scianitti.
Referee: Al Bradbury
The weather forecast: Indoors.