Tiger-Cats slow start cost them against Argos: seven thoughts on Hamilton’s preseason loss to Toronto

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats wrapped up their 2024 preseason campaign with a 25-14 loss to the Toronto Argonauts on a warm Friday night in Guelph.

The loss dropped the Ticats to 0-2, the club’s first time going winless in preseason since 2017.

Hamilton went with a young roster in this contest, with many of the starters on both sides of the ball either not dressing or being relegated to sideline duties. It was very much exhibition football with plenty of sloppy play but also featured some strong performances from players trying to crack the Ticats roster.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Slow start proves costly

It’s never a good sign when you’re able to fit your entire first offensive series into a CFL+ commercial break, but that’s exactly what happened to the Tiger-Cats first unit led by second-year quarterback Taylor Powell. The stream went to commercial after the Argos’ opening drive that resulted in a field goal and came back to Toronto back on offence. That was due to the Ticats quickly going two-and-out and punting the ball back to the Argonauts.

That was a consistent theme in the first half, as the Tabbies didn’t register a first down until midway through the second quarter. Powell struggled on Friday, completing just two of his four pass attempts for 10 yards. He was also strip-sacked on his final possession, which resulted in an Argonauts touchdown.

The Ticats’ offence finished with over 300 yards in net offence, but a good portion of that came late in the game and off the arm of Harrison Frost, who went 24-of-32 for 222 yards and an interception in his first CFL game action.

He deserves a Pat, mon! 

While the offence sputtered for most of the evening, there were still a few bright spots. One of those was first-year receiver Dezmon Patmon, who the Ticats signed and brought into camp less than a week ago.

The six-foot-four target was excellent on Friday, reeling in seven of nine targets for 115 yards. His performance included a beautiful catch on a 38-yard throw from Frost late in the third quarter that set up the Ticats’ only touchdown of the game, a one-yard plunge from running back Ante Milanovic-Litre. It was the definition of a 50/50 ball but Patmon outmuscled Argonauts’ defensive back Chris Steele to make it seem like it was more of an 80/20 ball in his favour.

There weren’t many rookie receivers who stood out in last week’s game against Ottawa and with the recent addition of former all-star Steven Dunbar Jr., there is one less job available for the taking. Patmon, who is familiar with head coach Scott Milanovich due to their time together with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, made sure to make good on his first impression.

Open for business 

Another pair of first-year pass-catchers made their case for the Ticats roster in Americans Marcus Rogers and Kaylon Geiger. Rogers was Hamilton’s second-leading receiver on the evening, catching six passes for 47 yards. Similarly to Patmon, Rogers joined the team in the late stages of camp but was able to make good when his number was called. He has the large frame that Milanovich likes in his receivers as he stands six-foot-three and over 200 pounds, proving he could be another option at boundary wide receiver.

Geiger is on the smaller end, standing at five-foot-10, but the 26-year-old has shown he can be a dynamic and versatile weapon. On this night, Geiger was stationed in the slot, where he caught six passes for 36 yards. The tenacious receiver also made some hay on special teams, returning one punt for 16 yards and one kickoff for 26 yards against Toronto after combining for 132 yards on six returns last week vs Ottawa.

Rookies in the CFL need to be able to contribute on special teams if they want to enhance their chances at making the roster and Geiger’s ability to factor into the third facet of the game could earn him a spot on the team.

Bend but don’t break

Hamilton’s defence allowed two long drives to start this game but was able to hold Toronto’s starting offence to just two field goals. The first drive was stunted by an incomplete Cameron Dukes pass with the second ending in a D.Q. Thomas sack.

Thomas was impressive, registering four defensive tackles and one special teams tackle to go with his sack. The three linebackers who started last year’s East Semi-Final loss to Montreal are no longer on the roster, so there are jobs available. Thomas and Ray Wilborn, who finished the game with three defensive tackles, showed well in their last audition to make the final roster.

Another member of the defence who stood out positively was defensive back Shakur Brown. The Michigan State product led the team with six tackles and was solid in pass coverage throughout the evening.

Fresh batch of turnovers

Hamilton has struggled with winning the turnover battle over the past two seasons and that continued into this year’s preseason games.

Taylor Powell lost his second fumble in as many games inside his own 20, which led to Toronto’s first touchdown of the game, and Harrison Frost threw an interception resulting in the Ticats losing the turnover battle 2-0. It was a similar story last week with Powell’s fumble turning into an Ottawa touchdown and killing any momentum the Tiger-Cats might’ve had on offence. Couple that with the defence not forcing any takeaways through two games, and you have a recipe identical to the past two seasons.

The positive side of things is that Bo Levi Mitchell was clean in his brief preseason appearance after he threw 10 interceptions in six games in 2023. Still, Hamilton’s offence simply isn’t good enough to overcome these mistakes and it will almost certainly be a topic of discussion for Milanovich heading into Week 1.

Improvements on special teams

After a poor first showing against Ottawa, special teams coordinator Paul Boudreau should be much happier with his unit after Friday’s performance.

The Ticats were able to clean up the penalties and miscues that plagued them a week prior, limiting penalties and not allowing any game-changing returns.

Milanovich sent a strong message that last week’s performance was unacceptable and that he would find players he could count on if things didn’t improve. It appears that message was received loud and clear.

Putting some leg behind it

Marc Liegghio looked to be in midseason form during the preseason, nailing all four of his field goal attempts with his longest coming from 42 yards against Ottawa.

Liegghio was very solid for the Ticats last season, replacing Seth Small after the season opener. He quietly made 87 percent of his kicks, providing no drop-off from Small’s spectacular performance in 2022. Fans rode Lieggio hard after he went one-for-four on field goal attempts in a midseason loss to Edmonton, but the Woodbridge, Ont. native shut out the noise and was nearly perfect the remainder of the season.

He’s now back with a familiar face in special teams coordinator Paul Boudreau, with the expectation that he can take the next step to push himself into the category of the league’s elite kickers.

Up next

Training camp is officially over and the Ticats turn their attention to the regular season with their opening match-up against the Calgary Stampeders on Friday, June 7.

There will be a lot of hype surrounding the game as the opener signifies the return of Bo Levi Mitchell to Calgary. It will also be the first time he faces his old squad after missing Hamilton’s 22-15 victory over Calgary last season due to injury.

Troy Durrell is a University of Calgary and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology graduate. He covers the CFL and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.