August 28, 2012
Tiger-Cats, Argos will clash in Labour Day Classic
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The football stage is now set for a Labour Day showdown that has the potential to be one of those classic games fans of three-down football won’t soon forget.
At no point during the season, at least for now, will the stakes be as high, at no point will the scrutiny be as intense, at no point will a loss trigger change that has the potential to be far reaching.
And so the Ticats and Argos now prepare for Monday, two teams that both enter the CFL’s mid-season point with issues that have yet to be addressed.
In Tiger Town, there are all kinds of areas that need attention on both sides of the ball, along the sideline, in the secondary, along the line of scrimmage, name an area and when a team has lost three in a row when leading in the fourth quarter and concern is inevitable.
In Argoland, the offence remains woefully inconsistent.
And just when it appeared the defence had found its identity, the unit takes far too many penalties that extend drives and yields plays that should have been defended more properly if better attention to detail had been exercised.
Eight games into the season and the Argos offence has regressed, at least based on the way it played Monday night in a disheartening loss to the Eskimos, who have now beaten Toronto five straight times, including a sweep of the this year’s season series with Ricky Ray now in Double Blue.
At 4-4, the Argos are in that grey area where they can go in any direction.
A loss on Monday in the Hammer will give the Argos a losing record at the half-way mark with what will surely be one of those must-win propositions when the Ticats visit Toronto on Sept. 8.
If the Argos are to get swept by the Ticats, the road then takes the Argos to Vancouver followed by a stop in Montreal.
At 3-5, the Ticats find themselves in a must-win heading into Monday given the paranoia that will envelope Steeltown if the Argos escape Ivor Wynne Stadium, which will play host to the Labour Day Classic for the last time, with a victory.
The week that awaits promises to be very eventful with the potential to be quite impactful, depending on the team that loses.
Listen to Argos starting centre Jeff Keeping and one will understand the importance of this looming home-and-home set between two historic rivals.
“This is huge,’’ he acknowledged. “You want to win every game, but these two games infront of us, in all reality, is going to set up the placings for the playoffs.
“Our goal is to finish first in the East and get that bye. If we take care of business (against Hamilton), we’ll really have a leg up on them. And when we go to Montreal (for a Sept. 23 matchup), we’ll be playing to win the East.”
At 5-3, the Als lead the East and have won three in a row, including last week’s two-point win over the visiting Ticats.
Despite their recent struggles, the Ticats aren’t a bad football, but it’s a team that has somehow lost its way when it comes to paying attention to detail and execution.
Consistency has plagued the Argos, a theme that must be addressed or the possibility of change is very likely, especially in a season when the club has already shown it will do whatever it takes to get to this year’s Grey Cup.
It all makes for a very compelling Labour Day slugfest, the last of its kind at iconic Ivor Wynne Stadium.
And depending on the outcome, it may turn out to be the last game for some.
ON THE HOTSEAT
A look at five individuals who will be under the microscope when the Argos and Ticats battle on Labour Day. The teams play in Toronto five nights later.
1. George Cortez
The Ticats made a huge commitment to Cortez, but the optics don’t look good when challenge flags should have been thrown on plays that warranted a review; when a team is underachieving, has lost three straight and appears fragile, it’s understandable when word leaks of disunity from within; winning cures all and the Ticats haven’t won enough.
2. Ricky Ray
Naturally, it’s not all his fault, but even Ray admitted following Toronto’s loss to Edmonton on Monday that he must be more consistent; the Argos have shown no ability to bounce back on nights when multiple turnovers are committed, when penalties abound and when sacks are yield; they’re not that good, but clearly they need to be better, beginning with Ray.
3. Henry Burris
Smilin’ Hank, like Ray, needs to step up and lead an offence in Hamilton that can’t finish drives; protection is an issue and getting Andy Fantuz more involved looms as a key; on paper, there’s talent in Tiger Town, but there’s no consistency; in a quarterback back league, it starts and ends at the pivotal position and Burris a sense of urgency has arrived.
4. Casey Creehan
Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator was well regarded by all three finalists for the team’s head coaching position, but there’s something amiss in the Hammer and it’s up to Creehan to clean it up; whether it’s stopping the run, defending the pass, running the right schemes in game-winning situations, the Ticats have not delivered in dropping three straight.
5. Jason Barnes
Everyone felt Barnes would emerge as Ray’s go-to receiver, but very little has been produced; the Argos must be looking at every option and one has to involve Barnes and how they use him; Dontrelle Inman needs more touches because he’s the only one who is making plays down field; Chad Owens does his damage in space, while Andre Durie needs to keep his eye on the pigskin.