Argos play underdog card

After being swept by the Ticats in the regular season, Argos head coach Jim Barker is painting his...

After being swept by the Ticats in the regular season, Argos head coach Jim Barker is painting his team as the underdog in their playoff match. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:09 AM ET

HAMILTON — Well, now we know one of Jim Barker’s little secrets.

Playing up his team as underdogs in the East Division semifinal? Who, the Argonauts that were swept during the regular season by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but finished with the same 9-9 record? You bet.

“What do you think?” the Argos head coach said on Saturday afternoon at Ivor Wynne Stadium. “They know there is not a person in this country that has picked them to win. We know it’s like people are picking it to be a slaughter.”

That’s laying it on a little thick, isn’t it?

“We are the third-place team that got smoked three times, and they are the team that lost here last year to a cross-over team (the B.C. Lions),” Barker said. “Their owner (Bob Young) was on the radio saying how huge this game was. We understand there is a lot of pressure on them. But I can also say we are not just happy to be here.”

The winner will play the Montreal Alouettes in the East final next Sunday. Strangely, approximately 4,000 tickets remained for the semi at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

We don’t think the Argos will get slaughtered on Sunday afternoon, but the Tiger-Cats, the only team Toronto didn’t beat during the regular season, have a better shot at winning. They have the experienced quarterback in Kevin Glenn and a sound group of receivers, and when it comes to defence, it’s essentially a saw-off between the clubs.

Cleo Lemon hasn’t been a consistent threat at quarterback for the Argos all year and what are the chances he starts capping drives now? Still, at least for public consumption, Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille wasn’t buying the popular theory that if his defence stops Argos rusher Cory Boyd, the home team wins easily.

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Bellefeuille said, trying perhaps to get on Barker’s Christmas card list. “Sometimes you take a bad rap on the ability to throw the ball, because that is not what you do. I think they are much better at throwing the ball than they get credit for. You can’t sit there and say you are going to take away Boyd and stop them. That’s not an accurate way to play a team.”

Argos special teams co-ordinator Mike O’Shea has been burning the midnight oil, trying to come up with ways to stop the Ticats from dominating on special teams. The Argos weren’t good against their QEW rivals on special teams during the regular season, and they will have to get by without leader Bryan Crawford, who has an adductor injury. Another top Canadian on specials, Jeff Johnson, has been recovering from a hamstring issue and whether he plays will be a game-time decision.

One guy who is ready is former Argo Arland Bruce III, the prolific player who was served on a platter to the Ticats last year by former Argos head coach Bart Andrus. Bruce is healthy after getting over a hamstring injury that kept him from playing in the last two games.

“To come back and play a team we’ve beaten three times and have an opportunity to sweep them, it’s a great feeling,” Bruce said. “And it’s the playoffs, so I mean, what more can you ask for? “I feel like it’s June again and it’s training camp. I feel fresh. It’s going to be fun.”

The Argos did the whole road game thing on Saturday, heading for a Steeltown hotel after their walk-through instead of retreating to their homes, as they do when it’s not the playoffs.

“In the 10 years that I played with Toronto (before 21/2 with Edmonton), I don’t think I ever stayed downtown,” kicker Noel Prefontaine said. “It’s different, but it is good. You get a quality rest. We love being with our families and enjoy waking up and seeing our children, but this way, we can focus on what we need to do in the game.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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