No one’s happier about the CFL East Division final being played indoors than Swayze Waters.
The Toronto kicker won’t have to worry about fighting the elements Sunday when the Argonauts host Hamilton with the Rogers Centre roof closed. Last weekend, the Tiger-Cats beat the Montreal Alouettes 19-16 in an East Division semifinal contest plagued by cold rain and wind gusts exceeding 60 kilometres an hour.
The bitter conditions wreaked havoc on the kicking game. In the first half, Montreal’s Sean Whyte tried a 27-yard field goal that was on course to split the uprights before the ball stopped suddenly in mid-air because of a wind gust and dropped at one-yard line.
“I was already glad we had the bye but I was really glad after watching that game, it was pretty rough,” Waters said with a chuckle following Toronto’s practice Wednesday at Rogers Centre. “In a game like this when you’ve worked so hard all year, you’d like to be able to control what you can control.
“When there’s (wind), that really changes the whole game.”
And can really get into a kicker’s head and mess with his thinking.
“But when I’m in that situation that’s what pre-game and halftime are for, you use that time to experiment and find out what you can do because you hardly ever get weather like that to practise it,” Waters said.
“You can’t over-think or try to do too much or else the results are even worse. Once the whistle blows, it’s time to punt or kick. That’s the point where I throw everything out and just kick it.”
The five-foot-11, 181-pound Waters is an important member of Toronto’s special teams, handling all three kicking jobs (field goals, punts, kickoffs). Waters, 26, made 18-of-25 field goals (72 per cent), was the CFL’s leading punter (46.5-yard average) and was second in kickoffs, averaging 64.6 yards.
Waters’ career-long field goal was 51 yards registered last year but he has hit from 60-plus yards in practice.
“He could really be a factor with his kickoffs and punts and the possibility of long field goals,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said of Waters. “You hope from an offensive perspective it doesn’t come down to things like that but Swayze’s leg is definitely a weapon.
“I’ve said all along, and in playoffs in particular, it comes down to turnovers and field position and 10 yards here or there on a punt or kickoff ultimately can be a difference in a game. There’s a lot of hidden yardage there.”
High, towering punts and deep kickoffs allow the cover team time to get downfield and negate the return and present the opposing offence with a long field. And those can figure very prominently in a victory.
“Punt by punt and kick by kick people don’t really notice it but if I have a good day kicking and our guys have a good day covering in all three phases, sometimes it’s the difference of six-to-eight points and a lot of yards,” he said. “I try to go out there not overconfident but just thinking I’m going to be part of changing the game.
“If we hit a deep punt and pin them deep, then our defence is fired up and the fans get into it. I try to approach it like we can flip the field, get everyone excited and keep that energy going.”
With a trip to the Grey Cup on the line, both teams certainly have plenty to play for Sunday. But as the defending champions, Waters said the Argos have the benefit of experience and the ability draw upon that in times of trouble.
“Whenever we face Hamilton it’s a big game and everybody shows up to play,” Waters said. “Last year I think we kind of beat the odds because nobody believed in us but this year I feel we have more confidence and are more comfortable in this situation.
“It’s not overconfidence, just a feeling we belong here and we’re prepared. Obviously there will be nerves, it’s a big game and it will be a big crowd here with Hamilton. But we’re excited and everyone’s ready to play.”
And already in his mind Waters has prepared for a scenario where the rabid Rogers Centre gathering is holding its breath in eager anticipation as his powerful right connects with the ball, the Argos’ season hanging in the balance.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “We kicked eight field goals in practice and each one in my mind I’m putting myself in that situation.
“It’s hard to do because no one’s here but it’s something as a kicker you have to learn how to do, simulate it as much as you can.
“I do my usual routine, I have a checklist that I know I’ve got to do and if I just do them, it will go in.”
NOTES — The Argos will be the home team Sunday but spent time Wednesday practising with piped in crowd noise. “It’s just good for communication and there’s more communication that goes on defensively than you’d think,” Milanovich said. “It kind of gets them a little bit more into game mode and makes them focus a bit more.” . . . The Argos will make additional seats in the 500 level at Rogers Centre available for Sunday’s game . . . Middle linebacker Robert McCune (shoulder) and Canadian receiver Mike Bradwell (concussion) practised Wednesday and Milanovich expects both to play Sunday . . . Linebacker Aaron Maybin practised at rush end with the starting defence Wednesday. The former NFL first-round pick made his CFL debut with Toronto on Nov. 1, recording two tackles in a 23-20 loss to Montreal.