HAMILTON — Monday’s Labour Day Classic doubleheader kicks off with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hosting the Toronto Argonauts at Tim Hortons Field.
The matchup between the two provincial rivals will reach a historic milestone, marking the 50th meeting between the Tabbies and the Boatmen on Labour Day since 1950.
The Labour Day rivalry game is something that All-Star linebacker Simoni Lawrence believes is rooted in Hamilton’s identity.
“That’s us, that’s what we like to do, it’s the Labour Day Classic and it’s a home game,” said Lawrence. “The one word I would describe it as is, physical.”
Hamilton has a notable history of success playing on the September long weekend, having won 35 of the 49 meetings. The Ticats have only lost once to Toronto since 2010 and look to improve upon a six-game Labour Day Classic win streak.
Veteran wide receiver Brandon Banks was quick to praise the city of Hamilton and its fans for their impact on the team’s success in the rivalry.
“I’m going to be honest, it’s our fans, the atmosphere of the stadium,” said Banks of the Ticats fanbase. “They give us the extra boost to go out there and lay it on the line for the city.”
The intensity of the game is unquestionable; however, this year’s Labour Day matchup will feature an added element of tension, the winner will take control over first place in the East Division.
Ticats Coach Orlondo Steinauer isn’t worried about the standings quite yet, and maintains belief that it is more important to be the number one seed at that end of the season.
“If it was the last game of the year, we’d be talking about it, or if it had implications of getting a bye, or clinching a playoff spot,” said Steinauer. “But right now, first place in September is not a focus for us.”
Despite Hamilton’s history of winning on Labour Day, the Argos are a retooled team, impressing early in the regular season with a record of 2-1 and currently holding the first place in the East.
In his Week 3 debut as the Argos starting quarterback, Nick Arbuckle led the team to a win against the defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Arbuckle connected on 23 of his 32 passing attempts, throwing 310 yards and one touchdown.
Toronto wide receiver DaVaris Daniels had a breakout game in the win over the Bombers, Daniels averaged a team high 14.2 yards per catch, reeling in seven of his eight targets for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The team’s signal caller was quick to credit his wide receiver for his play making ability.
“He’s just a really easy receiver to throw too, his body language is really good, you know when he’s going to break down and what kind of routes he’s going to run,” said Arbuckle of his teammate. “He’s consistent with how he runs his routes and he’s good with creating separation and he can also make plays on the ball when he’s covered.”
In addition to their passing game finding its rhythm, the Argonauts offence boasts a stellar rushing attack. Running backs D.J. Foster and John White have combined for 264 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Toronto is especially effective when utilizing their running backs in first down situations. As a team the Double Blue have run the ball 38 times on first down for 268 yards, while averaging seven yards per carry.
Toronto’s average gain of seven yards per first down when running the ball is the best among any team in the CFL, making their ground game one of the most effective first down units in the league.
Hamilton’s Steinauer respects the talent of the Toronto backfield, but believes his team needs to remain focused on tackling and strong defensive football.
“He has enough film to earn respect, he can play,” said Steinauer of Foster. “They have a nice one two punch going, but at the end of the day, the name of the game is tackling.”
Entering their Week 5 matchup, the Black and Gold are looking to build on a commanding 27-10 win over the Montreal Alouettes. The impressive showing from the ‘Cats was headlined by the aggressive play of their defensive unit.
The Tabbies held quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to under 200 yards passing for the first time this season. Also limiting running back William Stanback to his lowest total on the season, allowing just 40 yards on 12 carries. Stanback had been averaging 97 rush yards per game prior to Montreal’s matchup with Hamilton.
In addition to a stout front seven, the Ticats secondary has excelled defending the pass. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for an average of 209 yards per game and completion percentage of just 61, ranking the Hamilton coverage unit among the best in the league.
As good as the Tabbies defence has been, Lawrence believes his defence still has untapped potential and another level of play.
“It’s all coming together on one level, so it’s getting kind of scary because we’re all pretty athletic,” said Lawrence. “I think it’s a perfect time to ramp it up to that next level.”
Given the injury status of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the Ticats are preparing for Dane Evans to start under centre on Labour Day.
The third-year Hamilton pivot is no stranger to the thrill of competing on Labour Day. In 2019’s most recent game, Evans led the Ticats to a 38-27 comeback win over the Argos, totalling 442 passing yards and two touchdowns, completing 31 of 37 attempts.
Due to Masoli’s injury, Evans made his 2021 debut for the ‘Cats in their Week 4 win over the Alouettes. Evans looked confident and comfortable operating the Hamilton offence, missing on just seven of his 22 passes, throwing for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
Monday’s matchup between Hamilton is one of the most electric games of the season, as the new look Argos are set to take on the Ticats for the first time this season, it is sure to be another classic Labour Day rivalry game.
Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. ET on Monday and can be watched on TSN, RDS and ESPN+ or followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.