This time when the Toronto Argonauts mounted their rally, Henry Burris and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had an effective answer.
Burris threw two TD passes, including a key 15-yard fourth-quarter strike to Bakari Grant that effectively countered a Toronto comeback bid and led Hamilton to a 33-19 victory.
Toronto (9-5) had won its previous four games — all on the road — and each time rallied for the victory. After falling behind 22-6 at halftime, the Argos showed their resiliency, pulling to within 23-19 early in the fourth.
But Burris responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive he capped by finding an open Grant for a 30-19 Hamilton lead before 28,467 spectators with the Rogers Centre roof closed. It was Toronto’s second-largest crowd of the season behind the 29,852 that watched the defending Grey Cup champions open their season by overcoming a nine-point deficit to down the Ticats 39-34.
Burris then took Hamilton 49 yards on 11 plays as Brett Lauther’s 29-yard field goal at 14:44 cemented the win. Burris finished 19-of-31 passing for 274 yards with the two TDs and an interception as the Ticats (7-7) bounced back from last weekend’s dismal 35-11 home loss to Calgary.
“We were embarrassed last week,” Burris said. “That was huge for us to be able to get those drives going and move the ball downfield, especially in the fourth quarter where they’ve been known to be the kings in the fourth quarter.
“It was good to see us be that team in the fourth quarter. That’s an area we’ve struggled in, especially against the great teams in terms of closing out wins. It was good to see us come out and seal the deal.”
Toronto (9-5) suffered its second straight home loss. The Argos made their first Rogers Centre appearance since a 20-9 setback to Montreal on Sept. 3, the contest after starter Ricky Ray suffered a shoulder injury in a home defeat to Calgary.
Ray returned to the lineup as the No. 3 quarterback behind starter Zach Collaros and backup Trevor Harris. Collaros was 21-of-32 passing for 277 yards, no TDs and one interception.
Hamilton pulled to within four points of front-running Toronto in the East Division standings, with the two rivals capping their home-and-home series Oct. 14 at Alumni Stadium in Guelph, Ont. Ticats linebacker Brandon Isaac made his first appearance against the Argos after being released by them earlier this season.
Isaac was a thorn in the side of his former team, registering two sacks and five tackles. An emotional and vocal player on the field, Isaac said Thursday he was looking forward to talking smack with his former teammates but resisted that temptation on the field.
“I thought about it and I didn’t want to be a butt hole,” he said. “I just wanted to show my professionalism that it’s bigger than me.
“They made a decision, they’ve got to live with that decision as well as I did. It was a tough pill to swallow however with this win I’m over it. I can move forward and move in a direction with this organization.
However, it was also apparent the pain of being released still lingers within Isaac.
“I felt kind of betrayed, I felt really let down,” Isaac said. “I felt like if they had a problem with me they could’ve come and addressed me and I would’ve done my best to do better but I wasn’t given that opportunity.
“I was let go to the wolves and Hamilton took me in and we were able to come in and win a big game. I was given an opportunity that allowed me to do what I do. I’m a blitzing linebacker . . . I know how to do that and I was able to make plays for this team.”
After a dismal opening half, Toronto opened the third with a smart nine-play, 80-yard march that culminated with Swayze Waters’ nine-yard field goal. The Argos then got the ball at the Hamilton one-yard line when Curtis Steele blocked Josh Bartel’s punt that Marcus Ball recovered. Collaros’s one-yard TD run at 6:37 cut the Ticats’ lead to 22-16.
After Lauther’s single off a missed 42-yard field goal try, Waters pulled Toronto to within 23-19 with a 42-yard boot at 4:05 of the fourth. But the Argos also didn’t help themselves with eight second-half penalties for 80 yards. Overall, they were flagged 12 times for 110 yards.
“Just a sloppy performance,” Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said. “We were undisciplined in terms of penalties, there was certainly a lot more on our guys.”
Collaros, who dropped to 4-2 as Toronto’s starter since Ray’s injury, said Hamilton’s defence featured many different wrinkles the Argos weren’t expecting.
“They showed a lot of things we didn’t see on film . . . they did a good job of mixing up coverages and looks,” Collaros said. “You can’t win with field goals, especially against a good team like Hamilton.”
Milanovich was non-commital when asked if Ray would play in the rematch.
“It’s still to be determined,” he said. “I’d like to see him get a little bit better.
“Great if it’s next week (when Ray returns) but Zach has done a great job. He didn’t lose us the game tonight.”
Hamilton tied the season series with Toronto at 1-1. Burris planned to savour the victory but said it really won’t mean much if the Ticats can’t sweep the home-and-home set in Guelph.
“We haven’t won back-to-back games this season and if there’s any time we need to do that it’s right now,” he said. “This is a great test for us at the right time and if we really want it, here’s our opportunity.”
But Ticats head coach Kent Austin said Friday’s win could be an important one heading down the stretch.
“It’s just a real testament to the guys digging in and wanting to be good and not letting this game slip away,” he said.
Luke Tasker, C.J Gable and Dan LeFevour had Hamilton’s touchdowns. Lauther booted the converts, a field goal and single while Bartel also had a single.
Waters kicked four field goals and a convert for the Argos.
NOTES — Burris moved past the late Ron Lancaster into fourth in all-time passing yards with a 34-yard completion to Dobson Collins in the first . . . Toronto receiver John Chiles, who has a team-high eight TD grabs, didn’t play due to a cut on his hand that required 10 stitches to close. But receiver Chad Owens, the CFL’s outstanding player last year, returned to the lineup after missing four games with a rib injury . . . Special-teams standout Marc Beswick was among Hamilton’s pre-game scratches. Receiver Romby Bryant was one of Toronto’s four scratches . . . Isaac, offensive lineman Joel Reinders and defensive back Evan McCullough all earned Grey Cup rings with Toronto last season but are all now Ticats . . . Hamilton offensive lineman Tim O’Neill appeared in his 100th CFL game.