STREAMING PPV: Hamilton Tiger-Cats @ Toronto Argonauts, Dec. 5, 18:30 CET (6:30 pm, 12:30 pm ET)

By Jim Morris, @JEMEMORRIS

Even though they have already played the Toronto Argonauts four times this season, defensive tackle Dylan Wynn knows the Hamilton Tiger-Cats can’t assume anything as they prepare for the Eastern Final at BMO Field.

“You’ve got to go into each week with a fresh pair of eyes,” said the Eastern Division All-Star. “You can’t dwell on the past too much. You get stuck in those little whirlpools where you start thinking a certain way the whole time and I don’t think that’s healthy for breaking down an offence.

“Bringing in a fresh mindset into a game is always good.”

The winner of Sunday’s game advances to  the Grey Cup, Dec. 12 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

The Argonauts finished first in the East Division with a 9-5 record and beat the second-place Tiger-Cats (8-6) three times in four regular-season meetings.

Two of Toronto’s wins over Hamilton were decided by one point. The Argos were blown out 32-19 in the Labour Day game but wrapped up first place in the East with a 31-12 win over the Tiger-Cats on Nov. 12.

Having the better record and playing at home should make Toronto the favourite. Offensive lineman Philip Blake warned the past doesn’t always predict the future.

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“It doesn’t matter anymore,” said the 310-pound Toronto native. “When you go into the playoffs it’s one and done. You can look back and say this is what we did have success with but they may make a change.

“You go into these games with a fresh start.”

Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said his team must continue to do what it does best without being too predictable.

“There’s going to be some in-game adjustments,” said the former quarterback who is a finalist for CFL Coach of the Year. “The hardest part is you’re trying to do something new, attack them a different way.

“We’ve had some games where we had some wrinkles. We’ve just got to find  a way to reinvent the wheel a little bit. Make sure we stick to our core concepts and make sure we’re not doing the same things over and over, that they’ve seen all year.  We’ve got to throw some wrinkles at them.”

Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said after a week of preparation his team must be flexible on game day.

“Obviously we put together our plan, then go out and execute,” said Steinauer, the league’s top coach in 2019. “Whatever they do, it’s always the game within the game. You’ve got to be able to make adjustments while the game is going.”

In last week’s Eastern Division Semi-Final, the Tiger-Cats started slowly then caught momentum with a couple of first half turnovers before cruising to a 23-12  win over the Montreal Alouettes. The Tiger-Cats had six sacks to go with five turnovers.

“They played physical,” said Dinwiddie. “I think their defence kind of set the stage for their offence to get going.”

During the season the two clubs were close statistically.

The Tiger-Cats scored four more points and allowed 74 less than the Argos. Hamilton rushed for an average 100.5 yards per game, compared to 90.9 for Toronto, while the Argos passed for 261.7 yards per game, compared to 255.1 for the Ticats.

Toronto allowed 32 sacks on the season compared to 40 for Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats collected 31 sacks while the Argos had 29.

Both teams found success despite a carousel at quarterback.

Nick Arbuckle was supposed to be Toronto’s starter but was twice hobbled by hamstring injuries. That resulted in McLeod Bethel-Thompson taking over the job and Arbuckle eventually being traded to Edmonton.

Antonio Pipkin and Cole McDonald also saw some limited playing time.

Bethel-Thompson was caught up in a COVID protocol violation and has spent the last two days isolating from his team along with four other teammates, but Dinwiddie said on Saturday that he expects his players to be available come kickoff on Sunday.

In Toronto’s final two wins over Hamilton, Bethel-Thompson completed 55 of 76 passes for 638 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

At six-foot-four and 220, pounds Bethel-Thompson isn’t a mobile quarterback but his size and strength make him difficult to bring down.

“He’s a fierce competitor and brings his hard hat to work,” said Wynn, a former teammate with Bethel-Thompson in Toronto.

“Toronto is a well-oiled machine. They are an explosive offence.”

Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli missed three games with a rib injury. Dane Evans and David Watford also took snaps.

Masoli played two games against Toronto, both losses, completing 45 of 73 passes for 687 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He has a receiving corps that includes East All-Stars Tim White and Jaelon Acklin.

Toronto defensive back Crezdon Butler said the Tiger-Cats bring a balanced attack.

“It’s a group of guys that have been together for a while,” he said. “They are jelling as a group, especially in the skill positions. We have to be prepared.”

An important addition to the Argonauts was the Sept. 21 hiring of Chris Jones, a four-time Grey Cup champion and CFL coach of the year, as a defensive consultant.

Hamilton offensive tackle Chris Van Zeyl said Jones can be like a mad scientist concocting a new formula.

“There’s obviously things that they love to do and those things kind of shine through,” said the East Division All-Star who is also a finalist for the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award.

“You’ve got to get used to expecting the unexpected. There are always wrinkles that he throws in. That’s Chris Jones, his defence. It is what it is.”

In 2019, Hamilton had the best record in the CFL before being upset by Winnipeg in the Grey Cup. The Tiger-Cats started this year 0-2 and won four of their final five games.

Van Zeyl shrugged off questions about Hamilton perhaps being the underdog heading into Sunday.

“It doesn’t really matter how we feel, whether we’re underdogs or not,” he said. “It’s playoffs. You go in there and you’ve got to put your best football on the field. If you don’t, then you’ve got to deal with the consequences.

“There’s no room for thinking about what was or what happened in previous games. It’s just pin your ears back and go get them.”

AFI, Visaic and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Visaic and the Canadian Football League to present 2021 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

Watch the game live here. Hamilton Tiger-Cats @ Toronto Argonauts, Dec. 5, 18:30 CET (6:30 pm, 12:30 pm ET)

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