Hamilton Tiger-Cats offense ignites for Labour Day win over Toronto Argonauts

HAMILTON — It was an offensive explosion for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who put up 539 net yards in a 42-28 win over the rival Toronto Argonauts Monday night in the annual Labour Day Classic.

Alex Green and Brandon Banks scored fourth-quarter touchdowns, helping the Ticats pull away for a fifth straight win on Labour Day over the visiting Argos.

Jeremiah Masoli had three touchdowns and 385 passing yards while running back Alex Green scored twice, rushing for 115 yards in the process. Luke Tasker led all receivers with 143 yards through the air, followed closely by Banks with 135 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns.

James Franklin scored three touchdowns in short-yardage for the Argos, including one through the air on a pass to offensive lineman Ryan Bomben, while Alden Darby scored on a 100-yard fumble return touchdown and also added an interception in the loss. McLeod Bethel-Thompson finished with 163 yards and an interception on 14-of-29 passing.

While the Argos battled back from early deficits, and even took the lead in the third quarter, the numbers were one-sided, with Hamilton owning an edge of 319 net yards and nearly 10 minutes of possession.

With the win the Ticats extend their lead for second in the East, moving to 5-5 while the Argos drop to 3-7. The two teams will meet again in the rematch on Sept. 8 at BMO Field in another critical battle with playoff implications.

ALEX GREEN CELEBRATES WITH HIS TEAMMATES DURING SUNDAY’S LABOUR DAY CLASSIC IN HAMILTON (ADAM GAGNON/CFL.CA)

With the volume already turned up high at 6:30 p.m. local kickoff time, the Ticats gave their home faithful plenty to cheer about on the very first drive when the defence forced a quick two-and-out.

The offence went to work quickly, with Masoli working the field to Saunders and Banks and also rushing for a first down, eventually setting up a two-yard touchdown run by Green to put the Cats ahead 7-0. Green’s sixth touchdown in four games capped off a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive, with some assistance from a Marcus Ball facemask penalty.

While the Argos weathered the early storm, they struggled on both sides of the ball out of the gate. They could muster only a single first down before punting the ball right back to the dangerous Hamilton offence, and again, Masoli and co. made the visitors pay.

The Ticats’ pivot completed three straight passes to Tasker, with the latter, a harmless-looking three-yard pass, turning into a 56-yard touchdown to put double the home team’s lead, 14-0.

With the Argos nearing the point of no return — surely they couldn’t afford a three-score deficit in a difficult road matchup — the offence responded. Four straight runs from James Wilder Jr. yielded a couple of first downs, then Bethel-Thompson connected with Green on back-to-back completions, setting up a one-yard plunge from short-yardage quarterback James Franklin.

The teams swapped punts, then the Argo defence continued to take the momentum in the visitor’s favour. Masoli, feeling the heat from the Argo defence, forced a pass over the middle in traffic and was intercepted by SAM linebacker Alden Darby.

The game’s first turnover set up the Argos’ second straight touchdown, on a quick three-play scoring drive culminating in a rare Ryan Bomben touchdown grab from Franklin in a short-yardage situation.

Toronto appeared to have all the momentum, taking advantage of a pass interference penalty and moving deep into Hamilton territory to take the lead. But the drive stalled and Zack Medeiros’ 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. While it wasn’t all for naught — Banks elected to return the ball from the end zone, sticking the Ticats deep in their own end — the Argos came up empty-handed on the scoreboard.

The Ticats weren’t fazed by the long field, either. Banks sliced through the Argos’ defence with a 35-yard pickup, while Masoli continued to find a rhythm with completions to Tolver and Jones to get to the 19. After connecting with the goal post on first down, Masoli went to Banks on second down, who hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass to put the Tabbies ahead, 21-14 to end the opening half.

With the Ticats poised to extend their lead early in the third quarter, the momentum-shifted in a big way when  Ronnie Yell punched the ball out of Green’s grasp, only for it to be picked up by Darby on the way to a 100-yard run back. The Argos’ second takeaway of the game silenced the Ticats’ crowd, knotting the score at 21 points apiece early in the third quarter.

Marc Trestman’s team continued to tilt the field in its direction, forcing a quick two-and-out to get the ball back in the hands of the offence. Completions to Rodney Smith and Armanti Edwards set the wheels in motion, with a roughing the passer penalty moving the drive to the Hamilton 29.

After a 14-yard pickup for Wilder, Franklin finished off the 10-play, 71-yard drive with his second rushing touchdown and third major of the game, giving the Argos their first lead of the game.

The Ticats responded with back-to-back field goals, with Lirim Hajrullahu hitting his second field goal of the game after a second-down pass in the end zone just soared over the outstretched hands of Banks, making it 28-27 Argos.

In what was already a back-and-forth game, this was the point that Tim Hortons Field would erupt. Mike Daly jumped Bethel-Thompson’s pass over the middle, setting up an electrifying 19-yard touchdown run by Green. Green would score on the two-point convert, restoring a seven-point lead for the Ticats with 10 minutes in the game.

Not long later it was time for some Masoli magic. After Alex Green got the chains moving, Masoli connected twice with Banks before scrambling away from defenders, then finding the speedy receiver at the five. Banks escaped the defenders and dove into the end zone, scoring his second touchdown of the game and extending the lead to 42-28.

Green remains the hottest running back in the CFL, coming out of Monday’s game with seven touchdowns in four games, with three multi-touchdown games, after missing the first part of the season due to injury.

Argos running back Wilder, on the other hand, was held to 47 rushing yards on 11 carries in addition to three catches for a team-high 42 yards.

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