TORONTO — Henry Burris had three touchdown passes and out-dueled longtime counterpart Ricky Ray, to lead the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a 36-24 win over the Toronto Argonauts in the Eastern Final on Sunday at the Rogers Centre.
Burris finished the afternoon with 371 passing yards on 27-40 passing and added 51 rushing yards, while keeping Ray and the Argo offence off the field through most of the second half to come back from a two-touchdown deficit and reach the Grey Cup Championship for the first time since 1999.
Andy Fantuz had a team-high 114 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the Ticat defence pitched a shutout in the second half in the first Eastern Final between these teams since 1986.
No sooner than the opening kickoff the action began, as Andre Durie was hit and stripped of the ball at the 35 yard-line where Frederic Plesius recovered to set the Ticats up with excellent field position.
The Argo defence rose to the occasion though and forced a 15-yard field goal by Luca Congi, making it 3-0 Ticats before Ray could get on the field. But on the momentum of an important stop on a short field, the Argo offence came out firing.
First Ray connected with Chad Owens for a 23-yard gain in the middle of the field, before finding Dontrelle Inman along the sideline for an 11-yard gain.
After a 23-yard gain to start things off and then consecutive completions to Dontrelle Inman and John Chiles, Ray capped off his first drive of the game with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Watt to put give the Argos a 7-3 lead.
The veteran pivot showed no signs of rust in his first action in three weeks, going perfect on a drive that needed just six plays and covered 64 yards.
The teams exchanged punts but the offences weren’t about to go quiet, as suddenly Burris and the ‘Cats came to life. The drive got started on a 49-yard pass to Sam Giguere behind the coverage of Jamie Robinson, moving the Ticats to the Toronto 31.
Following an illegal contact penalty, Burris finished things off with a throw to the back of the end zone for Andy Fantuz, who fought off tight coverage to haul in the 7-yard touchdown pass. That capped off an 11-play, 90-yard drive over 4:46 to restore Hamilton’s lead.
But before the first quarter ended, the Argos got the last word in with a 40-yard gain to Durie on a dump pass to move back into Hamilton territory. After a first down to Watt, it didn’t take long for the Argos to finish from there as Ray dropped in a perfect pass to Watt behind coverage for a 29-yard touchdown.
That finished off the Argos’ longest drive of the game so far of 72 yards, yet also one of their quickest over the span of just 2:20 to give Toronto a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter.
The Double Blue got the ball right back and went to work, thanks to some help by the league’s leader in yards after the catch. On second down Ray found Durie over the middle, and he took advantage of his blocks and sprinted for 59 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the one.
On the ensuing play Zach Collaros snuck around the end of the pile for the 1-yard score, giving the Argos a 21-10 lead with 6:43 remaining in the half.
Bad turned to worse for the Ticats, as Burris looked long on a second down play only to be picked off by rookie non-import defensive back Jermaine Gabriel, giving the Argo defence its first turnover of the game.
After Ray completed four straight passes though, the Ticat defence came through with a stop to force a 28-yard field goal from Swayze Waters, making it a two-touchdown game.
That defensive stop seemed to spark the Ticats, as Burris came back hot with completions to Fantuz and Giguere to move back into Argo territory. The Argos had seemingly ended the drive after getting Dan LeFevour in the backfield on third and one, but an offside penalty negated the play and gave Hamilton new life.
Ticat ‘D’ leads the way
After having problems stopping the Argos’ high-octane offence in the first half, Orlondo Steinauer and the Ticats had all the answers in the second half. They forced several three and outs and held Ray and the Argos without a single second-half point.
In goal-to-go a time count violation cost the Ticats a down and nearly seven points, but on second down Burris found Fantuz just inside the goal line to cut Hamilton’s deficit to 24-17. Fantuz’s second touchdown of the game capped off an impressive 10-play, 75-yard drive and put the Ticats within close striking distance heading to halftime.
The Ticats continued their momentum in the second half, moving into Toronto territory on a first-down scramble by Burris followed by a completion on second down to Fantuz to move the sticks.
Burris struck on two more completions to Greg Ellingson and Luke Tasker, before finding Ellingson again in the end zone on second down for 14-yard touchdown to tie the game 24-24. That capped off a 68-yard drive in eight plays over the span of 3:50, marking Burris’ third touchdown pass of the game.
After forcing consecutive two-and-outs on defence, the Ticats added three more points at the end of the third quarter on the strength of a 46-yard catch-and-run by Bakari Grant and a Congi field goal, giving Hamilton a 27-24 lead heading to the fourth quarter and marking a run of 17 unanswered points.
The Argos couldn’t muster up any offence again, and after the teams swapped punts Ray and the offence would get another crack at the Ticats’ defence with 8:23 remaining in the game from their own 32.
But Hamilton came through with yet another stop, forcing the fourth Argos’ punt in the second half and the third two-and-out. Burris first kicked off the ensuing possession with a 14-yard run, before the drive was seemingly set to stall after a sack by Khalif Mitchell. Yet Burris continued to work his magic, this time hooking up with Grant for a 25-yard pickup on second-and-19 to move the chains.
The Boatmen seemed to have Burris and co. wrapped up after a stop on second down, but elected to accept a holding penalty on the Ticats to force them into second-and-long. The ensuing pass attempt fell incomplete, but the Argos were flagged for pass interference, giving the Ticats a first down at the Argo 38 heading into the three minute warning.
More time passed following two additional Ticat first downs, then on a second down Burris threw incomlete to Fantuz to lead to a 21-yard field goal by Congi. That made the score 30-24 Hamilton, leaving the Argos with 1:14 to go for the win.
The Argos covered a good distance on their first play with the ball, as Ray hit Owens for the first down before a facemask penalty moved the Boatmen to the Hamilton 45.
Ray went long twice after that and came up incomplete though, and on third down fired wide to Owens to clinch the win for Hamilton and send the Ticats to the Grey Cup Championship, where they’ll aim for their first championship since 1999.