Argos, Ticats set to begin important Labour Day series at Tim Hortons Field
Toronto Argonauts quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson (14) throws before CFL action against the BC Lions, in Toronto on Sunday, August 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 2, 2018 11:02PM EDT
For McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the next five days will define the Toronto Argonauts' season.
Toronto (3-6) visits Hamilton (4-5) on Monday night to open a crucial home-and-home series. The Argos will then host the arch-rival Tiger-Cats on Saturday at BMO Field.
The Ticats can not only separate themselves from the Argos with a sweep, but also move closer to the first-place Ottawa Redblacks (6-4). Toronto will be fighting for its playoff life this week. Given the real likelihood of a cross-over, only the top two teams in the East Division would secure post-season berths.
“It's definitely season-defining for us,” said Bethel-Thompson, who'll make just his fourth CFL start on Labour Day. “It's the back-nine of the season, it's now or never and we've got to get rolling soon.”
It's a fact not lost upon veteran Argos linebacker Marcus Ball.
“This is our playoff game, this is our championship game,” said Ball. “With so much on this game and the ramifications and everything, this is the Labour Day game.
“You can throw the records out the window, it's the Argos versus Ticats. It pretty much doesn't get any better than that.”
Hamilton has dominated the annual showdown, holding a commanding 33-13-1 overall record. The Ticats also are 4-0 on Labour Day at Tim Hortons Field.
Toronto's last Labour Day win in Hamilton was Sept. 3, 2012 at Ivor Wynne Stadium. This marks the first time since '09 that the Ticats enter the game with a better record than the Argos.
“You have all the ingredients for a great game,” said Ticats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. “We're in a tight race right now and any win against any East team helps us get ahead.
“It's a big game for us, we're preparing like it's a playoff game.”
Canadian Llevi Noel will start at slotback for Toronto with incumbent Anthony Coombs injured. Newcomer Duron Carter is on the Argos' 46-man roster but isn't expected to play in either game versus Hamilton.
The Argos are coming off a 25-22 road loss to resurgent Montreal (3-8), which has won two straight under quarterback Antonio Pipkin. He was 18-of-27 passing for 242 yards while rushing for a TD in the Alouettes' 21-11 victory over Ottawa on Friday night.
Monday's game pits a Hamilton offence averaging a CFL-best 420 yards per game against a Toronto defence that's ranked second-last (403.6) in yards allowed. The Ticats also are No. 2 overall in offensive points per game (20.7) while the Argos are averaging 26.3 points against.
Masoli is the CFL's second-ranked passer with 2,884 yards. He's also the league's top rushing quarterback with 314 yards (an 8.3-yard average).
Masoli threw for 419 yards and a TD in rallying Hamilton from a 24-10 halftime deficit to a stirring 25-24 home win over Edmonton on Aug. 23. Alex Green ran for 104 yards and a touchdown while receiver Luke Tasker had nine catches for 156 yards and a TD.
Brandon Banks is Hamilton's leading receiver (54 catches, 745 yards, three TDs), just ahead of Jalen Saunders (43 receptions, 712 yards, two TDs). On the season, Tasker has 33 catches for 502 yards and three TDs.
“I can't even break it down,” Ball said of Hamilton's offence. “They've got players all over the field ... They do everything they do well.
“It's a huge challenge for us to contain these guys. But most importantly (it) starts with No. 8 (Masoli). He's really leading those guys, he's got everybody playing at a high rate. It's going to be tough but that's the challenge for us.”
Hamilton coach June Jones said the Ticats are expecting a lot from the Argos.
“These next two games kind of count extra because they're division games,” he said. “We're in a good spot and Toronto has that same thing looking at them.
“They're in that same spot we are that they've got to play well. I expect they'll play their best game.”
Lirim Hajrullahu's 29-yard field goal on the game's final play earned Hamilton its win over Edmonton. For the first time in three years, he'll experience Labour Day as a Ticat after making the trip to Tim Hortons Field the previous two with Toronto.
“It's going to be a much easier experience, I think,” he said. “When you're coming to Hamilton you have the crowd against you ... the fans get into your head sometimes if you let them.
“Yes, I played with them before and we had our experiences but now it's a new game. It's very important for us to (create) that separation between us and them for second and eventually have a fight with Ottawa for first later on in the season.”