Tiger-Cats chasing eighth win in nine Labour Day showdowns versus Argonauts

HAMILTON — Labour Day never gets old for Simoni Lawrence.

The veteran linebacker will lead the Hamilton into its annual clash Monday versus archrival Toronto before a Tim Hortons Field sellout crowd. Lawrence, 34, is certainly well versed in the Tiger-Cats-Argonauts rivalry, having been in Steeltown since 2013.

"This is the kind of football I love," Lawrence said following Hamilton's walk-through Sunday. "It's just competitive, the fan base, it's like everything you want to do as a football player.

"Growing up, you want to play in front of a big crowd, you want to be on television, you want it to be ultra competitive and to play football the way its supposed to be played."

And although Hamilton plays 18 regular-season games, Lawrence admits there's something special and unique about Labour Day.

"I'd be lying if I said no," he said. "The whole city comes to support the Tiger-Cats on Labour Day against Toronto.

"They love this game more than any game in this whole entire season."

Hamilton leads the series 36-14-1 but Toronto snapped the Ticats' seven-game Labour Day win streak with a 28-8 victory last year. Both teams enter Monday's contest on a winning note.

James Butler ran for 118 yards and a TD while adding three catches for 36 yards and a touchdown in Hamilton's 30-13 road win over the B.C. Lions on Aug. 26. It was Butler's second straight 100-yard game and the last Ticat to crack the century mark three consecutive games was De'Andre Cobb in 2010.

"There's no carry-over from the last game." said Orlondo Steinauer, Hamilton's head coach/president of football operations. "Yes, it's exciting, there's more buildup (and) we've embraced that all week.

"We definitely understand the history and the rivalry and shoot, we're playing record-wise the best football team in the league. They've earned their spot right now, we're going to have our hands full but we're looking forward to the challenge."

On Aug. 25, Javon Leake's 86-yard punt-return TD broke a 31-31 tie in the fourth quarter and led Toronto past the Calgary Stampeders 39-31 The return was a club-record fourth this season for Leake, who's one short of the CFL mark shared by Henry Williams and Chris Williams.

Chad Kelly finished 20-of-31 passing for 361 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. On Thursday, Kelly signed a three-year, $1.865-million extension with Toronto that made him the CFL's highest-paid player.

Toronto comes in having won two straight, scoring 83 points and nine offensive TDs in 27 possessions.

The Argos also haven't allowed a sack in their last two games and a CFL-low 10 all season. However, Toronto has played with fire by losing the turnover battle in each of its last three contests.

DaVaris Daniels has nine catches over Toronto's last two games for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Defensive lineman Folarin Orimolade has four sacks in his last four contests and stands tied with Winnipeg's Willie Jefferson for third overall with eight, four behind B.C.'s Mathieu Betts.

Both Kelly and Hamilton rookie Taylor Powell make their first Labour Day starts. Powell was 18-of-23 passing for 222 yards and a TD to earn his first CFL win against B.C. and improve to 1-4 overall.

Toronto is 2-0 this season versus Hamilton, including a 31-15 victory July 21 at Tim Hortons Field. A victory Monday or Sept. 23 at BMO Field would give the Argos the season series and the Harold E. Ballard Trophy.

"It's going to be packed, it's going to be loud and those guys are going to be aggressive as we know," said Kelly. "They had a fantastic game last week.

"We know they're going to change up some looks from last time and from the first time that we played. We just have to be ready for whatever they throw at us."

And given the extension he signed last week, Kelly could have a bigger than normal target on his back when he arrives at Tim Hortons Field.

"According to some of my players, they say yes," he said. "But we're just trying to keep it moving and keep on producing."

Hamilton is 1-4 this season at Tim Hortons Field. A win Monday would halt a dubious home streak of three straight double-digit losses.

Hamilton hasn't lost four straight at home by 10-plus points since 2006.

For a second straight week, Toronto punter John Haggerty (knee) is a game-time as kicker Boris Bede handled all three jobs versus Calgary. Tavarus McFadden, a healthy scratch last week, starts at defensive halfback in place of DaShaun Amos (ankle).

For Hamilton, veteran Joel Figueroa (foot) returns to the starting lineup at left tackle. And while he's listed as a game-time decision, Steinauer is confident Figueroa will be play.

"I think he brings physicality in a different way," Steinauer said. "To say we haven't been physical would be the wrong statement.

"I think we've done a great job up there, it's just everybody's definition of physical is a little bit different. He's obviously going to bring experience, a different sense of calmness, just a different way to be in the huddle. All of those things that don't show up in the box score."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept, 3, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press