CFL Preview - Toronto (4-4) at Hamilton (3-5) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Losers of three straight, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats try to rediscover their winning ways as they settle in against the Toronto Argonauts in their annual Labour Day clash at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Monday afternoon.
Hamilton, which began the 2012 campaign with back-to-back defeats against Saskatchewan and British Columbia as it surrendered a combined 82 points, turned the corner after that by posting three consecutive wins in order to jump above .500. However, the weeks since have seen the team bow in three consecutive decisions and that has the group now sitting in third place in the East Division, ahead of only Winnipeg which just went to the extent of firing its head coach over the weekend.
As for the Argonauts, the thrill of having new quarterback Ricky Ray as their field general has apparently worn off with the team losing for the second time in the last three games with a disappointing 26-17 defeat at the hands of Edmonton on Monday night. Now an even 4-4 on the campaign and in second place in the division, Toronto is 2-2 on the road as it heads to Hamilton for Week 10 action.
Hearing the boos from the home crowd, Ray did little to establish himself in the first half against Edmonton, his former employer, as his new team scored a mere three points. Ray finished the night 26-of-38 for 251 yards and one touchdown, two interceptions and four sacks. Dontrelle Inman was responsible for a game-high eight catches for 117 yards and a score, and fan favorite Chad Kackert also landed in the end zone as he recorded 58 yards rushing on eight attempts, one of those being a 25-yard gallop across the goal line.
The defense for the Argonauts even managed to knock out Edmonton starting quarterback Steven Jyles with an apparent leg injury at the end of the first period, but still Toronto could not fully capitalize.
Meanwhile, the 'Cats put up a strong defense against Montreal on the road last Thursday, going as far as to limit the high-scoring Alouettes to just one point in the first quarter and eight by the break. Unfortunately, Hamilton bent just enough to allow Montreal kicker Sean Whyte to set up for and convert a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the hosts the win in a 31-29 final.
Henry Burris connected on 22-of-34 passes for 281 yards and a score, but he was also picked off once and sacked three times. Former Montreal running back Avon Cobourne stepped up and carried the ball eight times for 50 yards and also caught five balls for another 44 yards and a score, but it still wasn't enough to upset his old teammates.
If there is such a thing as a silver lining in a losing effort the Tigers-Cats had one, or more specifically, it was Chris Williams who registered another huge moment as he returned a punt in the second quarter 70 yards for a touchdown. Now in just his second year with Hamilton, Williams has become one of the top returners of all time as he tied Henry Williams for the CFL single- season record of kick returns for a touchdown with five.
Chris Williams now has four punt returns for scores in 2012 and one missed field goal that's been brought back for a major, all in a mere five games which is incredible in itself. Williams, who leads the league in touchdowns with 10 to this point, is on a pace to record 23 for the season which would equal the single-season mark set by Milt Stegall back in 2002 with Winnipeg.
But the Tiger-Cats can't cross their fingers and pray for good things to happen only when Williams gets his hands on the ball, the team also needs Burris to step up and make the kind of plays he is capable on a more regular basis. The quarterback actually leads the league in passing scores with 19 and, with just five interceptions, boasts the highest efficiency rating entering play this week at 110.3.
Ray, who was on pace to produce one of the top passing totals in Toronto history, is still hitting his targets at a 68.9 percent clip and is third in the league with 2,324 yards through the air, but the fact that he has almost as many picks (nine) as he does TDs (10) is why the club is failing to reach new heights right now.
Thanks to a 36-27 win in the last meeting in the middle of July, Hamilton now owns a commanding 123-87-2 edge in the all-time, regular-season series dating back to 1950. In that contest, the 'Cats put up 29 points at halftime but didn't score again until midway through the fourth quarter in order to put the game out of reach.
Burris threw for 181 yards in the meeting, and he did manage to toss three majors, one each to Andy Fantuz, Chris Williams and Bakari Grant. Williams also contributed to the point total with an 89-yard punt return for a score in the second quarter as well.
Ray converted 23-of-38 pass attempts for 232 yards and an interception for the visitors. On the ground, the Argos were given a fighting chance by Cory Boyd who raced 168 yards and scored once on 19 carries.
These familiar foes will be right back at it in a mere five days when Hamilton visits Rogers Centre. Adding even more excitement to the relationship, the teams are set to close out the regular season against each other on November 1 in Toronto as well.
Maybe being on the road, away from the pressures of his new home, will be what kicks Ray into gear in this game. Burris will certainly get his numbers and Williams will again be seeking the end zone every time he touches the ball, so Ray needs to stand up now.