CFL: Hamilton Tiger-Cats hang on to beat Toronto Argonauts in wet and wild Labour Day Classic

HAMILTON — Lirim Hajrullahu’s last-minute 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left for the Toronto Argonauts, sending the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to their first win of the season in the Labour Day Classic Monday night in Hamilton.

C.J. Gable scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:30 remaining while the Argos came up just short of the late-game comeback, sealing a wet and wild Labour Day that included a two-hour, eight-minute delay due to lightning.

 

For the Ticats, the annual Labour Day Classic against their most-hated rival was highly-anticipated after a turbulent couple of weeks in Tiger Town, including changes to the coaching staff and under center. But in Jones’ first game as head coach and Masoli’s first under center, things didn’t start out as planned.

A time count violation cost the Ticats five yards before their first offensive play while, shortly after, Masoli’s second-down pass was intercepted by Argos linebacker Marcus Ball.

The Ticats avoided disaster, getting a quick stop and forcing a 35-yard field goal by Lirim Hajrullahu with hopes of better things to come.

They would, eventually, but not right away as the two East Division rivals sparred lightly through the first 15 minutes of the ball-game.

With both offenses struggling, Ray’s deep ball to S.J. Green was intercepted by Richard Leonard in double coverage. But after a 30-yard return into Argo territory, the Boatmen escaped trouble, getting a quick stop and the football back.

It was 6-0 after Hajrullahu’s second field goal of the game, this one from 13 yards out, when it appeared that Martese Jackson had broken the game wide open. The speedy and slippery return specialist eluded defenders and took off down the sideline for a 101-yard punt return touchdown, only to have the game’s biggest play called back on a holding penalty.

Hamilton RB CJ Gable scored a TD Photo: Dave Chidley, CFL.ca

At 7:32 p.m. ET, with just under nine minutes to go in the second quarter, lightning in the area forced the fans into the concourse and an eventual two-plus hour delay.

The storm passed and the wind, although still a major factor, died down a little bit to set up the final two-and-a-half quarters of football at Tim Hortons Field. Up 6-0, the Argos had a chance to made it a two-score lead when they lined Hajrullahu up for a 43-yard attempt against the breeze. The kick had the distance but missed to the left, leading to their seventh point of the night and a lead of a converted touchdown.

With 1:59 and the wind at their backs, the Ticats showed no hesitation trying a 57-yard field goal — and it paid off as Castillo split the uprights to deliver the first points of the night for the Black and Gold.

Jones’ club had a chance for more before the half after stopping the Argos on third-and-three in Ticats territory. But after a swift trip into scoring range, time slipped away from the first-time CFL coach and his team. Toronto defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin brought the pressure and Masoli was sacked after time expired, sending Hamilton into the half with little to show for the late swing in momentum.

A very short halftime break arrived at 10:03 p.m. ET as the teams switched sides and the third quarter got under way.

The Ticats didn’t get any time to think about it and maybe that was a good thing, because after a first down by Jalen Saunders on a hitch screen, Banks snuck in behind the Argos’ defense, hauling in a wide open 64-yard touchdown pass from Masoli to give the Ticats a 10-7 lead.

With the ball in their possession and the wind at their backs, the Ticats planned to take full advantage of a rain-soaked field tilting quickly in their favor. On the very next play, Argos returner Jackson had the ball knocked from his grip and picked up and returned for a touchdown by Felix Faubert-Lussier. Osagie Odiase forced the fumble as the special teams play gave the Ticats a 17-7 lead.

Hamilton DB Richard Leonard picking off a Ricky Ray pass Photo: Dave Chidley, CFL.ca

As quickly as the Tabbies gained momentum, the Argo offence finally discovered itself after its most unproductive stretch of the season. Over the previous eight quarters coming into the second half on Monday night, that unit managed only three field goals while failing to find the end zone.

That changed quickly part way through the third quarter. After a forgettable first half, Ray got into a groove with seven completions on nine attempts, culminating in a a 10-yard touchdown pass to Posey to cut the Argos’ deficit to 17-14 late in the third quarter.

Momentum is a big part of football and it can change in a moment’s notice. And suddenly, at the turn of the fourth quarter, momentum had slipped from the Ticats to the Argos in a big way.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Castillo’s kick against the wind trailed off to the left and was retrieved from the end zone by Jackson, leaving the Ticats empty-handed.

Marc Trestman’s offence, methodical as always, went back to work. Ray completed five straight passes to four different receivers, including one to Posey at the Hamilton 11 that was turned into a go-ahead touchdown for the Double Blue.

The seven-play, 66-yard scoring drop put the Argos ahead 21-17 early in the fourth quarter.

With under 7:00 to go in the game, the Ticats had a chance to steal back the momentum, pinning Jackson and the Argos back at their own one-yard-line after a big punt by Castillo. But calm and cool as ever, Ray rolled out to his right and completed a pass to Jeff Fuller and another one to Green, moving the sticks and providing some breathing room.

Despite a stretch of 15 completions on 17 attempts by Ray, the Argos had to punt from their own 22 with the wind at their backs. With the wind shifting and a 15-yard penalty for no yards, the Ticats took over with optimal field position near their opponent’s 40 looking to make up a four-point deficit.

They did, and quickly, with help from a pass interference call against Rico Murray on Luke Tasker in the Argo end zone. The penalty set the Ticats up at the one, leading to a one-yard plunge by C.J. Gable and a 24-21 Ticats lead with two and a half minutes left.

Ray used his feet along with a fortunate Argo bounce on a completion to Green, moving the boatmen into field goal range on the ensuing drive. At the Hamilton 30, Hajrullahu’s 37-yard field goal in the wind missed to the left, sending the Ticats to their first win of the 2017 season.

Shawn Lemon left the game early in the third quarter with an apparent injury and Mercer Timmis was helped off the field early in the fourth. Neither player returned.

The Argos are off in Week 11 with a much-needed bye, their first of the 2017 campaign, while the Ticats head to the nation’s capital for their second clash of the season with the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Saturday, Sept. 9.

 

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