SMITH: Ticats make emphatic statement in Labour Day win

It was another mostly thriller on the unofficial last day of summer, and for the fifth year in a row the Hamilton Tiger-Cats emerged victorious in the annual Labour Day Classic matchup with the Toronto Argonauts, this one by a score of 42-28.

It wasn’t always pretty, but a second-half run saw them score the game’s final 21 points, including two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, to get themselves back to .500 and sink the Argos to 3-7. The Ticats now have a two-game buffer on the Argos for second in the East and are just one game back of the Redblacks for first place.

Entering the game at 4-5 didn’t make this game a must win, but what this win showed was that the Ticats are capable of two things. One, winning games when they don’t always play their best. There were hiccups in this game, and overcoming moments of adversity have not been in this team’s DNA. But following up the comeback win in Edmonton with another comeback win over the Argos, though slightly less dramatic, shows the Ticats are maybe rounding into the form that made them a sexy dark-horse Grey Cup contender at the beginning of the season.

Secondly, what this win shows is that the Ticats are able to string together consecutive solid games. The win over Edmonton was great, but if they had lost on Labour Day, if would have been the same one-step forward, one-step back formula the Ticats have been using for the better part of the last two-plus years.

Maybe the Ticats are ready to take the next step after all.

Here are some other thoughts.

When the irresistible force and immoveable object are one and the same

While the scoreboard reads a 14-point win for the Ticats, the numbers in this game would make you think this was an even more lopsided contest. Hamilton’s offence has been virtually unstoppable moving the ball, and against the Argos they were unstoppable once again. The Ticats put up 539 yards of offence and held the ball for nearly 35 minutes. The Ticats offence also had just three two-and-out drives and had seven drives where they picked up three or more first downs. That is incredible production.

On the other side, the Ticats’ defence put the clamps on the Argos’ offence. Toronto was only able to muster 220 yards of offence, over 300 fewer yards than the Ticats put up. The Argos barely had the ball for 25 minutes and their offence failed to pick up a first down on seven of their 12 drives. That is stifling defence, and if not for a pair of turnovers leading to scores this game may have been even more one-sided than the final tally makes it seem.

I’m running out of ways to praise Brandon Banks

It’s not just the numbers — nine catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns — that make Brandon Banks a special player. Once again we saw him sprint down the field to throw a block to spring Luke Tasker for a long touchdown (and hat tip to Mike Jones for holding a perfect block at the tail end of that play to make sure Tasker found the end zone), and we also saw Banks put his head down and bull through a defender to pick up extra yardage for a first down. Brandon Banks is one of the smallest players in the CFL, but he has the tenacity of a Rottweiler and it makes him the great player that he is. He is a legit MOP candidate at this point in the season.

I’m also running out of ways to praise Luke Tasker

After going over 100 yards against Edmonton in Week 2, it was a bit of a quiet start to the season for Luke Tasker, where he missed a couple games and didn’t crack the 60-yard barrier nor find the end zone in the four games he did play after that Week 2 contest. The nadir of his slow start came in Winnipeg where he caught just one pass for 18 yards. But then something happened over the Ticats’ second bye week, because Tasker has morphed back into the reliability, highly used player he was in past years. He followed up his nine-catch, 156-yard performance against Edmonton with an eight-catch, 143-yard performance on Labour DAy. Tasker is not known as a deep threat or as a guy who will run away from you, but in each of his last two contests Tasker has touchdown catches over 50 yards. Tasker always had a rapport with Zach Collaros and it looks like he now has one with Jeremiah Masoli and it means big things could be coming for No. 17 in the season’s second half.

Masoli was fabulous again

I’ll get to the turnovers in a second, and those are still something I wish he would eliminate, but it is hard to find fault in a quarterback’s performance when he completes nearly 75 per cent of his passes, tosses for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, he had the one interception that led to a touchdown for the Argos and yes, he still makes those throws that have you holding your breath, but that is just the player he is. He has confidence in himself and that confidence allows him to make throws like the game-sealing touchdown pass to Brandon Banks. No other QB would dare make that throw, and if Banks isn’t in the exact right place that may have also been intercepted, but Masoli trusts himself (maybe a little too much) and more often than not that trust is rewarded. A lot is made of his pedestrian TD-to-INT ratio (now at 12:11), but he has orchestrated 26 total touchdown drives and the Ticats are the East Division’s highest-scoring team. That’s a QB getting it done.

Alex Green, the touchdown machine

Alex Green has a nose for the end zone. In 10 career games, he has 12 rushing touchdowns. In just four games this year, he has seven rushing touchdowns, including three games where he scored multiple times. Against the Argos, Green was tremendous, rushing for 115 yards on 18 carries and finding the end zone twice. And it’s not just the scores than make Green maybe the best running back no one talks about, but his hard style of running where he picks up six yards when he should have only got two. He refuses to go down on first contact and makes the most out of every carry. He had a costly fumble on a drive that could have put the Ticats up two scores in the third quarter, but instead the Argos recovered the fumble and scored themselves to tie the game. But like with Masoli, that one play was the only blemish on an otherwise stellar performance by the touchdown machine Alex Green.

Injury bug bites big time

The Ticats may have won on the scoreboard, but they lost on the injury board (I know that’s not a thing, but go with me here) as two of the team’s better players were lost for this game, and maybe longer when Jalen Saunders and Delvin Breaux both left the game and did not return. Of the two, Saunders’ looked the most serious and was way too similar to the scene from two Thursdays ago when Chris Williams had to be carried off the field by teammates. If the injury is as bad as it looks, the Ticats may need to find a replacement for Saunders. TSN said after the game that the injury was an MCL sprain, but it is likely that Saunders will miss a few games and that is another receiver down for the Ticats. Good thing they had so many… but they made need another one.

Any time Delvin Breaux goes down you always worry. His story is one almost everyone knows, so I won’t go into detail, but when you see him clutching his head/neck area you think bad things. Breaux tweeted out after the game that he was “good” so hopefully that means the injury isn’t very serious.

Josh Johnson filled in admirably for Breaux, and the Ticats’ passing defence didn’t miss a beat without him, but the team is better when Delvin Breaux is on the field (a “duh” comment if there ever was one).

Hamilton’s No-Fly Zone

The “No-Fly Zone” was a term used by the Denver Broncos’ recent group of defensive backs led by Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and T.J. Ward. The Ticats may have their own no-fly-zone secondary as their No. 1 pass defence once again stymied any attempt by their opposition. McLeod Bethal-Thompson finished under 50 per cent in completions, had just 163 yards and no touchdown passes with one interception. Toronto’s leading receiver was their running back and he had just 42 yards. Toronto’s dynamic duo of S.J. Green and Armanti Edwards combined for just four catches for 64 yards and the only player to catch a touchdown pass (thrown by James Franklin) was Ryan Bomben. Hamilton’s secondary completely eliminated any possibility of a passing game for the Argos and I think the “No-Fly Zone” nickname is very fitting.

Ticats calm Wilder

James Wilder Jr. spent a lot of the past off-season making bold proclamations, the biggest of which was his assertion that he would become the CFL’s very first 1,000-1,000 man. As we sit here 10 games into the season, Wilder will need to go on a tear to even come close to those numbers. Wilder has never posted big numbers against the Ticats, but Labour Day saw Wilder rush for just 47 yards on 11 carries and catch three passes for 42 yards. On the season, Wilder has just 541 yards on the ground and 444 yards in receptions. If he continues along this pace, Wilder will still put up respectable numbers — 974 yards rushing and 799 yards receiving — but for a guy who made a lot of noise he is likely going to find himself coming up short. Maybe it isn’t so easy to put up 14 yards per quarter as he said on Twitter before the season began.

Looking ahead

Winning on Labour Day is always nice, but if the Ticats can find a way to win on Saturday at BMO Field and sweep this back-to-back set they will all but guarantee themselves a playoff berth. If Hamilton can get the win and push their record to 6-5, while simultaneously dropping the Argos to 3-8, Hamilton will have a three game lead on the Argos and hold the all important tiebreaker (essentially putting them four games up) with just seven games to play. While nothing is a given in the CFL with a third of the season left to play, the Ticats would be in prime position to end their one-year-playoff drought and start setting their sights on the first-place Ottawa Redblacks. As big as Monday was, Saturday is just as big and a win there could launch the Ticats into a very big, very exciting second half of the season.

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