HAMILTON -- A Bakari Grant touchdown stood as the difference as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats opened their new stadium, Tim Hortons Field, with a 13-12 win over the Toronto Argonauts. Quarterback Zach Collaros finished with a impressive 317 yards on 27 of 38 passing in his return to the lineup.
Despite some nervousness leading into the game, Tim Hortons Field opened in what seemed like a dream scenario for the Tiger-Cats: On Labour Day, against their arch-rivals, wearing their new signature uniforms and welcoming back their starting quarterback in Collaros.
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The dream setup produced a dream start for the Tiger-Cats who forced a turnover on the opening kickoff. Laval product Frederic Plesius pounced on a Trent Guy fumble to set up the game’s first points, a 29-yard field goal by kicker Justin Medlock.
Following an Argos punt single, Collaros proved that any rust that would have accumulated over his six-week absence was long gone, engineering an impressive second possession. The former Argos pivot found Andy Fantuz and then Greg Ellingson for first downs before hitting Luke Tasker on a hitch screen for a 39-yard gain. The first touchdown at Tim Hortons Field was scored two plays later when Collaros found Bakari Grant on a post for a 9-yard touchdown to take an early 10-1 lead.
With Ricky Ray and the Argonauts offence failing to put first downs together, the Boatmen needed to rely on the other two phases of their game to stick with the ‘Cats. A coffin-corner kick by Swayze Waters pinned Hamilton at their own 1 yard line which allowed DL Cleyon Laing to snuff out a draw play and tackle Ticats running back Mossis Madu in the end zone for a safety.
Some stellar play from both defences combined with superb kicking from Medlock and Waters held Ray and Collaros in check for most of the second quarter before Hamilton put the next score on the board.
Collaros scrambled out of a collapsing pocket on second down to find Ellingson for a 39-yard gain down the sideline. After the two connected on a 9-yard completion, the ‘Cats looked as if they were going to pull away when a pass was sailed into Madu but the rookie tailback bobbled the ball, despite being wide open, and Hamilton settled for a 23-yard Medlock boot.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half, Ray and the Argos offence finally found their footing. The veteran pivot calmly delivered a pass to rookie Netay Adjei who turned up field for a first down. His catch, combined with a horse-caller tackle penalty netted the Argonauts a 47-yard gain. With 22 seconds remaining, Ray dropped back and found Guy behind coverage for a 20-yard major to cut the Hamilton lead to 13-10 before halftime.
Despite entering the third quarter stuck only three points, the story in the first half was the Hamilton defence which held Ray to just 65 yards on 7 of 16 passing in the first two quarters.
As the third quarter began, Waters once again pinned the ‘Cats deep, earning a conceded safety. Toronto dodged a bullet early when a fumble on the ensuing kickoff by newcomer LaVon Brazill was recovered by the Ticats but resulted in just a punt.
Despite some nervousness leading into the game, Tim Hortons Field opened in what seemed like a dream scenario for the Tiger-Cats: On Labour Day, against their arch-rivals, wearing their new signature uniforms and welcoming back their starting quarterback Zach Collaros.
The third quarter continued without incident as the teams sat 13-12 heading into the final frame. The story of the third quarter was without a doubt the defensive lines which made life uncomfortable for both quarterbacks as Ray and Collaros attempted to find receivers down field only to find themselves on the carpet.
The Tiger-Cats seemed poised to extend their slim lead but a turnover cost the Black and Gold heavily.
After Collaros completed passes to Ellingson and Madu, he took a quarterback keeper up the middle for a 9-yard gain to set his club up at the Toronto 1 yard line with three downs to punch it in. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli came in on short yardage but had the ball popped loose as he attempted to go over the pile. His fumble was picked up by Argos DB Jamie Robinson who pitched the pigskin to fellow defender Vincent Agnew.
The Argos would take over on their own 20 yard line just in time for Ray to join elite company. The former Eskimos gunslinger found Jason Barnes over the middle for a 37-yard gain which put him up over the 50,000 passing yard mark for his career. He is only the sixth quarterback all-time to do so.
Ray looked to strong-arm the Boatmen when he took over with just under 2 minutes left but his pass on a corner route was picked off by former Montreal Alouette DB Ed Gainey who came down with the interception with 1:47 left at midfield.
The Tiger-Cats looked to kill the clock but managed to give Toronto one more shot when a fumble with 27 seconds left gave Ray one last shot. The Argos quarterback couldn’t push the ball down the field however, and the ‘Carts held on for the important victory.
Despite gaining the 50K milestone, Ray finished a modest 16 for 29 for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Ellingson led all receivers with 5 grabs fro 75 yards.
Next week the Tiger-Cats travel to Montreal to take on the Alouettes while the Argos enter a bye week.