The 10-year Labour Day drought is finally over for the Toronto Argonauts. On Monday, the Argos laboured through three quarters before storming past the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the fourth quarter on their way to a 28-8 victory against their arch-rivals.
For the second year in a row, Toronto has won the Ballard trophy over Hamilton. The Argonauts have beaten the Ticats twice in the last two years on their field. However, this particular victory marked the first time that the Argonauts have won at Tim Horton’s Field on Labour Day weekend. The Boatmen also snapped a seven-game LDC losing streak.
In one fell swoop, the 6-5 Double Blue exorcised their past demons, bettered their postseason chances, and damaged 3-9 Hamilton’s chances for another run to a Grey Cup.
EAST DIVISION STANDINGS
In Week 14 of the CFL season, the Double Blue will have a short week as they prepare for another double dose with an eastern opponent. Toronto has two straight road dates with Ottawa, with a bye week sandwiched in between. The last time, Ottawa squared off with Toronto. The REDBLACKS beat the Argos at BMO Field 23-13.
But before the focus shifts to the next phase of their season. And the upcoming McLeod Bethel-Thompson versus Nick Arbuckle showdowns. Let’s look back and grade all aspects of Toronto’s LDC victory over Hamilton.
Toronto Argonauts Labour Day Classic Report Card
Coaching Grade: A
Ryan Dinwiddie’s offence started and finished the LDC strongly. However, there were plenty of struggles in between. Toronto’s offensive attack went into a funk and kept Hamilton hanging around longer than they should have.
But the real story of this game was Corey Mace and the Argonauts’ defence. The defensive unit pitched a shutout, not allowing a single point.
There is no doubt that Toronto’s success defensively was aided heavily by Hamilton’s neophyte quarterback tandem of Jamie Newman and Jalen Morton. But nevertheless, Mace called the best game of his young career as a coordinator.
After playing a passive style for weeks, Corey Mace decided to flip the switch and called for a more aggressive defensive game plan. The team relied on heavy-pressure packages, and it produced stellar results. The Ticats young passers were flustered, completing only fifty percent of their passes and turning the ball over twice. If not, for a couple of dropped interceptions, the tally could’ve been higher.
Mickey Donovan’s special teams unit kept the Ticats from shifting momentum and making big plays in their return game.
Quarterback Grade: B minus
McLeod Bethel-Thompson was 22-34 for 298 yards, two touchdowns, with a pair of interceptions. After striking big early on. Toronto’s passing attack went into a coma until late in the game. MBT had a couple of misfires and miscommunications with his receivers. His two turnovers, one a pick-six and the other an interception in the red zone, could’ve proved costly under different circumstances.
Running Back Grade: B
For long stretches of the game, the most impressive player on the Argonauts’ offence was AJ Ouellette. He finished with 116 total yards, with forty-two of them coming on the ground. But his best contributions came in the passing game, as a pass blocker and receiver. Ouellette ran hard in the open field, netting five receptions for 70 yards. Daniel Adeboboye surfaced late in the game and looked impressive in his brief duty with three carries for 21 yards.
Receiver Grade: B
It wasn’t perfect early on. There was miscommunication and multiple drops.
The star of the show was Brandon Banks. He only touched the ball three times but provided plenty of bang for his buck with two scoring touchdowns and 84 yards. Banks had a 53-yard catch that got the Boatmen rolling early on. And then he scored on a fake double reverse pass run late. Banks might’ve scored a third major if not for a tremendous pass breakup by Ticats defensive linemen Malik Carney near the end zone.
Each of the Argos’ starting receivers was targeted five times. Markeith Ambles had some issues with drops but did score a pretty touchdown somersaulting into the end zone in the first quarter.
Toronto Argonauts Receiving Stats
|GITTENS JR., Kurleigh||3||5||45||23||15.0||23||0|
DaVaris Daniels (4-42) could’ve had a more productive day had officials not blown him down when he was untouched. The misstep by the officiating crew cost Daniels an easy walk-in score.
Offensive Line Grade: C plus
The Argos struggled up front for long stretches of the game. The Ticats confused them with exotic blitzes, and the run game was essentially nonexistent until late in the game.
But after some early struggles, Toronto’s offensive line settled down and weathered the storm. The unit has been far from perfect, but there have been some improvements in the last two weeks. Baby steps.
Defensive Line Grade: B
The stat line may not indicate it, but Shane Ray, Robbie Smith, Brandon Barlow, and Shawn Oakman were active getting after the quarterback on Monday. Robbie Smith should have been credited with a forced fumble and sack, but officials mistakenly blew the play dead as an incomplete pass.
Shane Ray did get home with a sack late in the game, and it was his sixth of the season. The blitzing by Corey Mace on Saturday freed up Ray to go one-on-one on the outside. Often, Toronto sends only three rushers, guaranteeing that their most talented rushers are never single-blocked. The change in strategy has freed up Ray to make more plays.
CFL Newcomer Brandon Barlow continues to impress in his reserve role. He nearly shared a sack with Henoc Muamba early in the game and provided several pressures.
Hamilton did break some long runs against the Argos. But for the most part, Toronto was stout up front. The game-sealing play from this unit came late in the game when they stuffed Hamilton on a third, and one QB sneak in their own territory.
Linebacker Grade: A+
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better or more versatile group of starting linebackers than Toronto has. It’s a common theme week in and week out. The league’s leading tackler, Wynton McManis, continues to play at a very high level. The Argos effectively used their linebackers as spies against the Ticats mobile QB duo.
Henoc Muamba was the star this week. He finished with eight tackles and one sack. But his best work has been in coverage over the middle of the field. On several occasions, Muamba tackled speedy receivers in space short of the first down marker. The Argos linebackers are so sound in coverage and are adept at killing drives by causing two and outs. That’s exactly what this group did on Monday spearheaded by its middle linebacker.
Secondary Grade: A+
Anytime you limit an opposing team to 50 percent completions, less than 200 yards passing, and allow only one pass play over 20 yards. It’s a stellar day at the office.
Jamal Peters is living the good life right now. He picked up two more interceptions to go along with his three from last week. The football is finding him right now.
The back end of Toronto’s secondary is playing excellent football. Kudos to William Fields and Joshua Bell for coaching up this unit. Royce Metchie and DaShaun Amos are in a comfort zone. Maurice Carnell IV played another outstanding game at defensive halfback. He’s probably kicking himself for dropping two interceptions, but his coverage has been stellar. Toronto was lucky to get him back on the roster after Shaq Richardson and Robert Priester went down to injury.
Special Teams Grade: B
The Argos trotted out a new returner in CFL rookie Jeremiah Haydel. Dealing with some rain and the elements for a novice returner in the Canadian game can be problematic. There were some hiccups for Haydel in his Double Blue debut.
Punter John Haggerty had another terrific outing, averaging 53 yards per punt. It was a busy day for him dealing with the wind, as he punted the ball nine times.
Kicker Boris Bede was 2/3 on his field goals. He missed a 43-yard kick with the wind at his back.
Toronto’s coverage units were fantastic all game long. Jack Cassar and Joshua Hagerty both had had two great open-field tackles in space. Hamilton’s returners had very little room to operate.
Toronto Argonauts LDC Final Grade: A-minus
Despite the obstacle of playing on the road in front of Hamilton’s largest crowd ever. And battling the haunting ghosts of LDC’s past. The truth is that the Argos had no business losing Monday’s game. They were the better overall team. Especially with Hamilton deciding to go the inexperienced route at quarterback.
In my preview at CFL Newshub for the LDC. I predicted a Toronto victory. But the script was different than I thought it would be.
For three quarters, it looked like Toronto was going to find a creative way to lose the game. But the team, particularly its defence, rose to the occasion and slammed the door shut on the Ticats, potentially stealing a victory.
In many respects, Toronto still feels like a work in progress. Especially on the offensive side of the ball. But the team has a lot of top-shelf talent, specifically on the defensive side. The Boatmen might be turning the corner in their season. The four-game in five-week marathon against Hamilton is finally over, and it’s time for Toronto to see how they measure up against everyone else the rest of the way.