HAMILTON — Nothing signifies the OK Tire Labour Day Weekend quite like Monday’s doubleheader.
First up, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats welcome their QEW rival, the Toronto Argonauts. It’s the third of four meetings this season between the two, with Toronto winning the previous matchups by by a combined 63-29 margin.
Both teams enter this contest off victories. Hamilton took down the BC Lions 30-13 in Week 12, while Toronto outlasted Calgary, 39-31.
The win was exactly what the Tiger-Cats needed but they’ll have to find a way to improve at home as they’ve limped to a 1-4 record so far at Tim Hortons Field.
Taylor Powell started the last meeting against the Argonauts and threw for 282 yards but couldn’t find the endzone. He’ll be back under centre this week after completing 18 of his 23 passes in the Tiger-Cats’ win over BC.
Hamilton receivers D’haquille Williams — who is listed as a game-time decision — and Terry Godwin have enjoyed playing against the Double Blue, racking up 167 and 128 yards, respectively. With the Argos issues limiting yards through the air, the pair will be seeking to add to those numbers.
If Williams is unable to go, watch for veteran Tim White to see more action than already expected.
Robertson Daniel has been one of the best Argos’ defensive backs, recording 64 total defensive plays and four interceptions but he can’t do it alone and will need the support of Royce Metchie and Jamal Peters to slow the Ticats’ top playmakers.
Don’t look now, but running back James Butler is rounding into form. His 118 yards on 21 carries in their win against the Lions gives him back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. If he’s to make it three in a row, he’ll need his offensive line anchored by David Beard, Brandon Revenberg and Coulter Woodmansey to open up holes.
Don’t expect Butler to focus on his previous performances heading into this week as he’s amped up for the Labour Day showdown.
“I’m excited, I’ve never played on a Labour Day,” Butler told reporters.
“It’s a lot of excitement. It’s big to this city. We play these guys a lot so it’s a big one for us. I want this team to always know what they’re going to get out of me week-in and week-out.”
They’ll have their hands full though, as the defensive front of the Argos is one of the best in the league. D-linemen Brandon Barlow and Shawn Oakman have helped limit opposing rushers to 76.7 yards per game. When Butler makes his way through the line of scrimmage, he’ll run into linebacker Wynton McManis, who has 51 defensive tackles.
It’s been a tough go for the Ticats’ defence in all phases of the game this season but their play against the Lions provides reason for optimism.
The Argos, who have scored the second most points this season with 307, will continue to hand the ball to running backs AJ Ouellette and Andrew Harris, as they’ve terrorized opposing fronts. That is if quarterback Chad Kelly doesn’t decide to take it himself.
In two games this season against the Ticats the Argos have rushed for 222 yards, including 144 from Ouellette alone.
But back to that optimism, as the Ticats defensive line held the Lions to 54 yards on the ground. Defensive lineman Casey Sayles and linebacker Simoni Lawrence each had a sack and an encore performance can go a long way in determining the outcome.
Kelly has proven he’s not a one dimensional quarterback, however. He’s coming off a 361-yard, three touchdown performance but did throw a pair of interceptions against the Stamps. The organization showed just how much they believe in their pivot when they inked him to a three-year contract extension earlier in the week.
With a new contract in hand, Argos’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie is looking forward to seeing his quarterback continuing to progress each week.
“Chad’s play on the field and leadership off the field make him the perfect fit for us here in Toronto,” Dinwiddie told Argonauts.ca.
“You’ve seen what he’s done so far this season and we have no doubt the best is still yet to come with Chad.”
Being able to spread the field has been a strong part of his game and he has the receiving corps capable of giving him options. DaVaris Daniels has six touchdowns and six 30-plus yard receptions, while Damonte Coxie had 102 yards against the Stamps and is averaging 18.4 yards per catch.
All of this means the Ticats’ secondary will be in tough. It’s a group that hasn’t picked off a Kelly pass in two tries and is giving up 277.5 yards a game.
As for the importance of this game, Steinauer says it’s impossible to ignore the energy around the Labour Day Classic.
“There’s always more buzz, there’s no downplaying that,” he told reporters.
“It’s about as close to a playoff feel as you’re going to get until the playoffs. It’s just fun. The media, the hype around it is something we embrace.”
Toronto can move to 9-1 through 10 games with a victory.
A win for Hamilton moves them within a game of .500.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET. Canadian viewers can catch the game on TSN and RDS, while American viewers can tune in on CBS Sports Network. International viewers can watch on CFL+.