September 3, 2012
It's go time for Argos, Ticats
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
HAMILTON - A defining moment in a season dotted with inconsistency and plagued by an inability to produce touchdowns in football’s red zone has arrived.
For the Argos, it arrives on Monday on a stage unlike any other Toronto will play outside of a playoff backdrop.
A win and the Argos, who enter the day at 4-4, will find themselves at the CFL’s mid-way mark with a winning record and much-needed momentum as Hamilton visits Toronto on Saturday.
A win and the Argos will keep pace with Montreal in the East, raising hopes that the all-important bye and home field in the divisional final is very much at play.
A loss on Labour Day and the Argos will yet again prove that they can’t get over the hump, that perhaps this season of great expectation is one of inconsistent moments.
“It could be if it goes well,’’ said head coach Scott Milanovich. “If it doesn’t go well, is the season over? No. Absolutely not.
“These are important games. We’re not fooling ourselves. These are two critical games within the division against a team we’re battling. We’d love to get this one and see what happens next week, but there’s a lot of games left in the season and we have to keep things in perspective.”
It’s naturally and inevitable that Milanovich is trying to manage expectations and keep everything, whether it’s following a win or a loss, in perspective.
It’s what coaches do in a long season, especially when new systems have been installed with players who are foreign to the schemes.
But Labour Day has historically been a time when CFL football comes alive, rivalries are renewed, a time when players look ahead to the second half of the season and the post-season.
The Tiger-Cats, a team that has lost three in a row, should be the more desperate team given its recent play and the emotional lift from a crowd that’s expected to sell out the venerable Wynne.
As of late Sunday, a few hundred tickets remained as Ivor Wynne Stadium gets set to play host to its final Labour Day Classic.
Defensively, the Argos match up well against Hamilton’s offence that is a big-play unit, but one that can’t finish off drives.
On special teams, it’s pretty much even, even with Chris Williams lining up on punt returns.
Chad Owens is long overdue for a huge return game.
What Labour Day boils down to is a matchup featuring Toronto’s offence and Hamilton’s defence.
Turnovers have been hard to produce by the Ticats defence, an area of football that often proves to be the difference in an even matchup.
“I try to let them (players) know what’s in front of us, what’s to come, where we’re at, where we want to go,’’ said Milanovich.
And right now, the Argos aren’t where they want to be and nor is it where they expected to be, especially on offence.
By early evening Monday, they’ll have a better idea.
In football, no game is as important as the next, but Labour Day’s meeting in the Hammer has so many repercussions that it’s virtually impossible to properly document.
The Argos have been searching for some momentum, trying to reach a level of play where discipline is exercised and execution achieved.
A great opportunity awaits the Argos, one that must be seized.
Maurice Mann will finally make his return to the field, ending an absence that dates back almost a full calendar year.
On Sunday, the Argos added Ken-Yon Rambo to their 46-man roster, raising the spectre that this veteran receiver will make his debut in Double Blue.
There’s no better feeling than silencing a crowd, especially at Ivor Wynne Stadium, where the noise level will be deafening on Monday.
Silent counts, going with more no-huddles, everything will be explored by the Argos.
“It (crowd noise) plays a big effect offensively,’’ said Ricky Ray. “There’s a lot of communication that goes on, especially with snap count.
“In this league, you’ve got a lot of guys moving in motion. And they’re not next to you because it’s a big field. For the receivers it’s going to be hard to hear and a lot of it is them being used to the timing of what the snap count is.
“Even if we need to get into some no-huddle situations it’s going to be hard to get it called out to my guys, so receivers have to do a good job of what we call echoing the call out.”
EIBEN GOING TO MISS OLD IVOR WYNNE
Whether he wore Double Blue or his current colours of Black and Gold, Kevin Eiben relished Labour Day and revelled in all the attendant pomp and circumstance.
He won’t hear any boos on Monday, but the echoes of past Labour Day Classics and the nostalgic backdrop of Ivor Wynne’s final days resonate.
“It’s about the fans, it’s about history, it’s what makes our game so unique,’’ said Eiben. “Words like epic come to mind.
“I remember the first time playing here in this game and the boos you’d hear from these passionate fans. The jets flying overhead, the intensity. A lot of memories, a lot of history here. I’m ecstatic to be part of this final game at Ivor Wynne, especially to be in Black and Gold.
“I’ve had some of my greatest games out here and I’m really looking forward to this. It’s going to be a shame after this year when they knock it down. But you know what, it’s done its duty and we got to appreciate all the alumni who gave all their blood and sweat out here to bring the CFL to where it is right now.
“This (Monday’s matinee) is one of those occasions you do not forget.”
It’s why Eiben will soak in the atmosphere and make plays when opportunities become available, whether it’s on special teams or when he lines up at linebacker in certain packages.
TICATS CAN’T AFFORD TO LOSE
For what it’s worth, the mood around the Ticats in the days leading up to Labour Day has had a different feel, an air of urgency that is expected when a team has lost three in a row.
George Cortez has felt it and Hamilton’s head coach has also heard it.
For obvious reasons, it’s of little consequence if the Ticats go out on Monday and are unable to get past the Argos in what will be the final Labour Day Classic to be played at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
“I’ve noticed a lot more communication, especially on defensive side of the ball, making sure people are in their right spots,” said Cortez. “I believe they’re eager for the game.”
If, for some strange reason, the Ticats aren’t ready, the raucous crowd will no doubt make the home side fully aware of what’s at stake.
Fans in Tiger Town smell blood and under no circumstance will they tolerate a loss, especially with Hamilton visiting Toronto this Saturday night.
“It seems like it’s been a long time since we played,” added Cortez, whose team last played on Aug. 23 in Montreal, a night many will remember for that non-challenge flag on a reception that wasn’t by Als slotback . Green, a 40-yard gain that would lead to a field goal in a two-point Hamilton loss.