For the 50th time in league history, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts clashed on Labour Day.
Just like 35 of the previous 49 meetings the result was never in doubt.
The Ticats were going to win.
And win they did.
In resounding fashion, Hamilton used a 15-point third quarter to blow the game open before cruising to a 32-19 win, their seventh straight victory on Labour Day.
Here are some of my thoughts.
Mr. T.T.P. for M.O.P.
Few players have made as big of an impact over the first third of the season as Hamilton defensive back and returner Frankie Williams.
For the second straight game Williams was the spark plug to a Ticats’ victory. Against the Montreal Alouettes, he provided a couple big returns and an interception that led directly to 17 Hamilton points. On Labour Day, he didn’t make as many plays but he made a massive one: a 67-yard punt return that ended with Williams celebrating in the end zone.
In a year where no one has really separated themselves in the M.O.P. race so far, is it crazy to think Williams is in the conversation? The award generally goes to an offensive player — more often than not a quarterback — and only one defensive player has ever won the award, Solomon Elimimian in 2014. But in a year unlike any other, if Williams can keep up his production on both special teams and defence — he was second on the team in tackles against the Argos and had a pass breakup — there is no reason he shouldn’t be squarely in the discussion for being named the league’s top player in 2021.
In addition to Williams’ big return touchdown, the Ticats also scored on defence, when a tipped Nick Arbuckle pass was swallowed up by Simoni Lawrence who scampered five yards for the game-icing score. It was the cherry on top of an outstanding defensive performance. The Argos scored just four points in the first half and didn’t find the end zone for the first time until almost halfway through the fourth quarter. A CFL game is never over that early, but the Cats had this one well in hand by the time the Argos tried to make it a game.
The last two weeks have seen the Ticats get much healthier on defence — their entire starting defence was finally all on the field together to start the Labour Day Classic — and it should come as no surprise that the wins have followed.
Dane does even more
After playing reasonably well against the Als, Dane Evans followed that up with another solid outing on Labour Day. Facing very little pressure, and more on that in a second, Evans was able to carve up the Argos’ defence to the tune of 248 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-29 passing, and once again committing zero turnovers.
The one area that Evans needed to improve upon from a breakout 2019 season was turnovers. He threw 13 picks compared to 21 touchdowns last season and that ratio needed to come down before I was ready to put him in the conversation with some of best at his position. So far in 2021, in just two starts, he has yet to commit a turnover. Evans was efficient and effective against what was considered a very good Toronto defence and he’s started to pick up where he left off in 2019.
Bullies up front
One of the biggest areas of concern for the Ticats this season has been the play of their offensive line, but against the Argos those concerns would be put to rest. The Ticats offensive line finally looked like a cohesive unit for the first time all season, silencing the Argos’ defensive line and making players like future Hall of Famer Charleston Hughes complete non-factors. If they can keep that up, the Ticats will keep winning.
Bullies up front, part two
Monday afternoon was the first time we saw the entire defensive line together and, yeah, it’s as good as we remember it being. The run defence was once again excellent, holding the explosive duo of John White and D.J. Foster to just 46 yards on 12 carries, and held the Argos to 51 rushing yards total.
They also harassed Nick Arbuckle, sacking him three times, with Dylan Wynn, Ja’Gared Davis and rookie Mason Bennett picking up one each. When healthy they are the best front four in the league and they showed that on Monday.
A chippy affair
It wouldn’t be a Labour Day Classic without a little chippiness. We saw ejections in this game the last time it was played and while we didn’t see that in the 50th edition of the Classic, it was far from a tame outing. The Argos took a number of silly, unnecessary penalties and a small skirmish broke out following the final kneel down. With these two teams renewing hostilities on Friday in Toronto, that could be an extra ornery affair.
The Ticats maintained their undefeated record in Labour Day Classics at Tim Hortons Field, winning for the seventh time in seven games played at the Donut Box on the first Monday of September. The Ticats have now won 10 of the past 11 against the Argos on Labour Day, with the lone loss coming in 2012.
Maybe even more incredible is that Orlondo Steinauer has never tasted defeat at home as the team’s head coach. The Ticats went 10-0, including the playoffs, in Steinauer’s rookie season in 2019, and Monday’s Labour Day Classic was the team’s first home game since beating Edmonton in the Eastern Final that November.
Puntin’ by the Whit
We don’t often talk about punting unless the punter screws something up, but aside from an ill-kicked punt that went for a single, rookie Global punter Joel Whitford had an excellent performance.
Directional kicking is of more importance in the CFL than in other football leagues because of the size of the field, and for the most part Whitford was masterful in directional punting against the Argos. The winds at Tim Hortons Field can also cause even the most seasoned punter to look lost, but Whitford expertly battled the elements as well and placed most of his punts exactly where he wanted.
A day of firsts
Labour Day saw a pair of Canadians notch major milestones in their CFL careers, with David Ungerer III scoring his first career touchdown — snatching Treston Decoud’s soul on a vicious stiff arm en route to the end zone — and Mason Bennett recording his first career sack. American rookie receiver Tim White also scored his first career touchdown to cap off a day of firsts for the Ticats.
Say hello to your first place Hamilton Tiger-Cats
After two weeks and two admittedly bad losses, many including myself openly wondered if we overrated the Ticats. Two wins later and the team is back where we expected them, in first place. Yes, they are technically in a three-way tie with the Argos and Montreal Alouettes, but with the Ticats having bested both teams, in back-to-back weeks no less, they hold the tiebreaker over both and therefore sit atop the standings.
They might not get to enjoy their time on that perch for long as a rematch with the fellow 2-2 Argos looms in just four days. If the Ticats win that one, expect the hype machine to get back rolling in favour of the black and gold.