The good and bad of a Labour Day Classic that lived up to its name

In a weekend that saw some incredible football played both north and south of the border, the CFL may have saved the best for last. The Labour Day Classic between the Ticats and Argos was just that, a classic, in every sense of the word.

It was that rare game, the one you get every decade or so, that you will tell you not-yet-born relatives about. This game was a work of art. As an unfinished piece, it looked clunky and uneven, but by the time the clock hit all zeroes, it was a masterpiece.

Good: The resurrection of C.J. Gable

All year the Ticats have rarely found a way to use C.J. Gable effectively, but that ended on Monday. On a day where legends are made, C.J. Gable had one of his best games as a Ticat and undoubtedly his best game this season. He touched the ball 15 times for 163 total yards, 135 of that coming via the run, and his big 53-yard run set up the Ticats for their second major of the game and was the catalyst for the team erasing a 20-point Argo lead. At some point, maybe even as early as next weekend, Gable will go back to being a somewhat forgotten man, who will contribute in ways many fans don’t notice (namely, pass protection), but for one shining day, C.J. Gable was the man.

Good: The gunslingers just slinging it

Ray vs. Collaros. The teacher vs. the pupil. Apollo Creed vs. Rocky Balboa. It’s a classic story befitting the Labour Day Classic. Collaros goes 28 of 35 for 359 yards, with four touchdown passes and one interception. Ray counterpunched by going 31 of 41 for 386 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In the end, the student bested the teacher, but this was everything a CFL fan could want out of a quarterback duel.

And just as an aside: how many more games until Zach Collaros starts getting serious MOP consideration? This dude has been on fire since returning four weeks ago. His 1,510 yards is ninth in the league. Not earth-shattering, but his 377.5 yards per game is tops in the league, and his 14 touchdown passes is third in the league, just three behind Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchell’s 17. Collaros has played four games. Mitchell and Reilly have played 10. His yards won’t come close to either Reilly’s or Mitchell’s, but if he finishes top five in most statistical categories, how can you not vote for him for MOP?

Good: Chad Owens, Argos Killer

It wouldn’t quite be a Labour Day Classic without some good and bad from CO2, right? He got his annual Labour Day fumble in early — the third of four Ticats turnovers that led to 24 Argos points in the first half (more on that in a bit) — but from there on out he tormented his old team like he used to do his current team on the first Monday of September. His six catches for 63 yards was a typical 2016 Chad Owens game, but his 28-yard grab set up his 10-yard touchdown catch on the very next play which gave the Ticats their first lead since the first quarter and put them on top for good. And don’t forget that back in Week 1 it was his TD catch late in the fourth quarter that put the final nail in Toronto’s coffin as well. He didn’t quite end the game as emphatically in this one, but he still played a major role in downing his former club once again.

Bad: Mistakes prove costly early

Epic comebacks only happen when teams have massive deficits, and while the Ticats have mastered the art of the epic comeback, things would be a lot easier for them if they didn’t continually shoot themselves in the foot early in games. This one saw the team turn the ball over on four consecutive drives — fumble by Zach Collaros, interception by Zach Collaros, fumble by Chad Owens and a blocked punt — that gifted the Argos 24 of their 36 points and help give the Argos their 27-7 lead. Full credit to the Double Blue for capitalizing on Hamilton’s bevy of mistakes, but if the Ticats could just stop making these mistakes, they would cruise to victories. Case in point: after surrendering those 27 points, the Ticats outscored the Argos 42-9 the rest of the game en route to their 49-36 win. But making all those mistakes and getting down by 20 in the first place, which necessitated the epic comeback, is why the Ticats are 5-5 and a team like Calgary is 8-1-1. The Stamps don’t beat themselves; the Ticats routinely do. Hamilton’s mistakes didn’t cost them in this one, but they have, and will, against better teams.

Great: Football Day in Hamilton

The Argos-Ticats Labour Day Classic wasn’t the only Toronto-Hamilton football game on the schedule on Monday. The University of Toronto Varsity Blues (full disclosure: my alma mater) played, and lost, to the McMaster Marauders at Tim Hortons Field 32-5 in the first game of what was dubbed “Football Day in Hamilton.” I went to the game, my first live CIS action in 25 years, and I am glad that I did. The majority of the 5,802 people left the game happy and despite my school suffering the loss, I did as well. My hope is that this will become part of the annual Labour Day festivities, and while it doesn’t always have to be UofT vs. McMaster, a Marauders game at noon followed by the Ticats and Argos at 6:30 would be a great, new Labour Day tradition for Hamilton football fans.

Final Thoughts

Monday’s Labour Day Classic in Hamilton was the CFL at its best. Games like that are we all fell in love with this league. It had everything. Big plays on offense, game-altering plays on defense and momentum-turning plays on special teams. And, of course, a comeback for the ages.

The Ticats are now 5-5, one game up on the Argos, and have now won the season series against their provincial rival. The Ticats also sit just a half-game back of the 5-4-1 Ottawa Redblacks for first place in the East Division. Those two teams will meet in a crucial home-and-home set in mid-October.

Celebrating this win can’t last long because these two teams will battle in just five days when the Ticats head down the QEW to play the Argos at BMO Field next Sunday. A win by the Ticats on Sunday would effectively end the Argos’ hopes of claiming a top-two seed in the East Division and makes the race for first a two-horse one between the Cats and Redblacks. Hamilton’s schedule is much easier than Toronto’s and the Ticats would have essentially a three-game lead with seven games to play. Not insurmountable by any means, but a pretty good place to be in if you are the Ticats.

Labour Day used to be the be all and end all of the Ticats’ season. That is no longer the case — the goals are much bigger now — but winning on Labour Day always makes Tuesday a little bit brighter in the Hammer.

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