TORONTO -- All eyes will be on Chad Owens and Chris Williams on Saturday, as the Ticats head east down the QEW to take on the Argos in a Labour Day rematch at the Rogers Centre.
Together, the dynamic playmakers put on a show for the ages in last week’s final Labour Day Classic at the current rendition of Ivor Wynne Stadium, electrifying a sold-out crowd of 31,032 with lightning-fast kick returns and highlight-reel catches to the tune of 612 combined yards and 2 touchdowns.
|Related: Ticats at Argos|
» Ticats acquire DL Torrey Davis
» Argos, Ticats headline weekly honours
» Argos' Carroll gets redemption
» Williams sets TD return record
» Owens comes through for Argos
» Week 11 CFL.ca Game Notes
» Last week for the Argos & Ticats
» Tickets: Ticats at Argos
In the first edition of the Battle of Ontario at Ivor Wynne back in July, the Argos trailed by six points and had an opportunity to make it three at the half on a last-second kick by Noel Prefontaine. The kick missed right, and with zeros on the clock, Williams took it all the way back in the other direction or a touchdown.
Instead of a possible three-point lead at the half, it was suddenly a 13-point game thanks to Williams’ third touchdown of the half. Although the Argos made it close at one point, they could never come all the way back.
Then there was Labour Day.
Just when it seemed like Williams’ exceptional day on special teams – which in reality was nothing more than a regular day at the office for the second-year Ticat – would be enough to lift the Tabbies to their second win of the season over the Boatmen, Owens had a statement of his own.
The 30-year-old, already having a day to remember on offence, struck on the last drive of the fourth quarter with a catch many won't soon forget. On first down with around a minute to go in the game, tied at 30, Owens reached behind him to make an incredible one-handed grab.
That kept the drive moving, and eventually kicker Swayze Waters finished it all off with the game-winning field goal.
As these teams prepare to meet for the third time this season in a key East Division battle with high stakes, they’ll be led by two of the league’s most exciting players.
Owens is one of those players, and while he was mostly known for his ability to return kicks in his first two seasons as an Argo, this season he’s turned heads with his emergence as a top receiving threat.
Head Coach Scott Milanovich and quarterback Ricky Ray both acknowledged without hesitation that Owens is the number one guy in Toronto, but the native of Hawaii was quick to downplay the notion.
“I’m just a piece of the puzzle. If [Ray and Milanovich] say I am, then I guess I am,” Owens said. “I don’t look at [Toronto’s offence] as having a No. 1 receiver, No. 2, No. 3, because every week someone could have a [big] game.”
The kick returner and receiver hasn’t scored a touchdown returning kicks this season, yet if you ask around the league, people will tell you he’s having a career year.
The peak of it came last Monday on a sweltering day in the Hammer, when Owens had 11 catches for 176 yards, all part of a franchise-record 402-yard performance.
He now sits second in the league in receptions with 53, as well as receiving yards with 764, and is 773 yards away from his third straight 3,000-yard season, extending his own professional football record.
|What are the writers saying?|
|» Bradwell, Watt doing their part for Boatmen
» What's next for Chris Williams?
» MMQB: A truly 'classic' Labour Day Weekend
Ray chuckled when enumerating Owens’ talents, and almost sounded relieved.
“[Owens] is going to win most of the time in man coverage,” Ray said. “And in zone coverage he is going to be where he needs to be. I mean, you just want to get the ball in his hands.”
Despite the stats and the praise, however, Owens kept preaching modesty, and seemed surprised he was being anointed.
“Everybody is buying in, it is not just me,” he said. “If the receivers around me don’t run their routes, I don’t get the ball. If the offensive linemen don’t pick up the [pass rush], I don’t get that ball. If the running backs don’t make blocks, I don’t get the ball. It’s a collective effort.”
The Ticats, meanwhile, will have to find a way to bounce back defensively in order to stop Owens and the Argos offence. They kept the Double Blue at bay through most of the first three quarters, but let the Boatmen sneak back in the fourth quarter.
It seems to be a familiar story over the past month, with a number of close games going the opponent's way.
“On a week-to-week basis I think we’ve been playing pretty good football,” said veteran linebacker Jamall Johnson. “There’ve been some lapses and maybe at the most inopportune times we’ve allowed points or haven’t been able to get a stop that we need for whatever reason.”
|The last time they met|
Ricky Ray delivered with poise on a last-minute drive, while Swayze Waters kicked a game-winning field goal as the Argos put together an impressive fourth-quarter comeback to top the 'Cats on Labour Day. The Argos scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, as Ray went on to throw for 375 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
For Johnson, a key leader on that unit, the scores don’t matter in the end – only the result.
“It frustrates me just to be losing. I don’t care how many points it is. If we lose 6-3, it’s frustrating,” he explained. “The frustration comes from the lack of execution when we need to execute. We’ve had an opportunity to win pretty much every game that we’ve lost this year and we haven’t done it.”
Johnson believes that the answer is a greater sense of urgency among his teammates – the determination to hold fast regardless of the down or situation.
“We’ve got to start rising to the challenge and playing like every down is our last, fighting like our life depends on it,” said the linebacker. “No matter what’s going on, whether they’re kicking field goals or something happens on special teams, when 30 points are on the board it looks like [the loss] is on the defence.”
The Tiger-Cats effectively avoided the proverbial ‘big play’ against the Argonauts on Labour Day, forcing the Double Blue to nickel and dime their way downfield instead.
While Owens has been chipping in more on offence lately, Williams has been doing it all with incredible special teams play. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, he finds another way to impress.
He already has four touchdowns in total against the Argos this season – three on special teams and one on offence – which means a good part of the Argos’ game plan should come down to stopping him.
One thing we can be sure of is that people will be watching their number 2 in Double Blue and number 80 in Black and Gold all game, and every time either one of these players touch the ball, opposing fans will be holding their breath.
Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Postmedia and Ticats.ca
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|