Chris Williams’ quick feet saved the day for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
With the Argos making a move late in the second quarter, and the Hamilton offence sputtering, Williams collected Noel Prefontaine’s 44-yard missed field goal in the end zone and headed out.
“I just found the crease and I saw a couple linemen there so I tried to move out of the way and I found the seam and I had some guys leading me up and they made all the good blocks,” Williams said. “I just ran.”
Run he did.
Williams brought the missed kick 119 yards for his third touchdown of the game and his second of the night off a return Saturday as the Tiger-Cats defeated the Argonauts 36-27 to pick up their first win of the season.
“It was just good to get the momentum back on our side,” Williams said of the final play of the first half that made the score 29-13 heading into the locker-room. “If they had made that field goal they would have [pulled to within six points] so it was good to get the momentum back on our side and give us a little breathing room.”
Williams also had a 34-yard TD reception to open the scoring and an 88-yard punt return touchdown.
Andy Fantuz scored his first TD as a Ticat and Bakari Grant added his first of the season on a six-yard reception with eight minutes left in the game to douse any Argo hopes.
Saturday marked the second game in a row that Williams scored on a punt return. That makes a total of seven special teams TDs scored in the first three weeks of the CFL season. There were only eight scored in all of 2011.
Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris was 12-of-27 passing for 181 yards and three touchdowns as the Ticats improved to 1-2. Burris was also intercepted once.
The Argos had pulled to 29-27 midway through the fourth quarter, due in large part to a Hamilton offence that couldn’t keep ball possession, but Burris led a 75-yard scoring drive with rushes of 23 and 14 yards to keep the drive alive. It ended with a six-yard touchdown strike to Grant.
Burris said he entered the huddle for that series keeping loose and singing the songs on the public address system.
“We have the potential in this offence,” he said. “It was just upsetting to me the fact that we kept sagging back, just being more the nail and absorbing what they were doing instead of being aggressive and having fun. When they gave me the running lanes in those situations, I had to use my feet because they weren’t respecting me to run the ball at that point.
“Thankfully, I was able to make some big plays with my feet and really move the chains in two key situations and allow us to get some points on the board and really chew up a lot of clock as well.”
Toronto’s offence had 24 first downs to Hamilton’s 14 and 391 yards net offence to the Tiger-Cats’ 288. But they were unable to take advantage of their scoring opportunities, four times having to settle for field goals from less than 25 yards.
Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich put the loss down to too many mistakes in the first half, when the Argos found themselves down 21-0 and then 29-13 at the half.
“Too many penalties,” he said. “A couple dropped balls, turned one over and we gave them a couple return touchdowns. It’s tough to win a close game on the road when you make that many mistakes.”
Ricky Ray connected on 23-of-38 pass attempts for 232 yards to go along with one interception. Jarious Jackson and Cory Boyd scored touchdowns for Toronto (1-2).
The Argos were down by three touchdowns early in the second quarter but pulled to 29-27 with 10:52 left in the fourth before Grant’s TD stopped the Toronto momentum. Ticat defensive back Carlos Thomas intercepted Ray at the Toronto 50-yard line with 1:51 left as the crowd of 24,263 at Ivor Wynne Stadium roared a huge sigh of relief.
“I’m happy for the guys,” said Hamilton’s George Cortez, who recorded his first professional win as a head coach. “It makes you feel good about yourself and makes the sun not so bright and not so hot the next day. And there’s the intangible of confidence and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that.”
Prefontaine made 2-of-3 field-goal attempts, hitting from 15 and 37 yards but missed from 44. He hurt his leg on Williams’ final kick return touchdown to end the first half and was replaced in the second half by Anthony Alix, who hit from 18 and 19 yards but missed a 24-yard attempt.
Ray moved ahead of Doug Flutie (41,355) into seventh spot on the all-time passing list with 41,468 yards. Burris is already in sixth spot, having jumped over Flutie in the first game of the season.
Burris hit Williams for a 34-yard score 10 minutes into the game to get things started. The Ticats built on the momentum when Toronto’s Chad Owens fumbled a punt return and Hamilton linebacker Nathan Kanya recovered it on the Argos’ 46. Three plays later, Burris found Fantuz for a 24-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead to end the first quarter.
Williams made it 21-0 early in the second quarter on his punt return TD.
Toronto answered with a 71-yard drive that ate up 4:11 on the clock but netted just a Prefontaine field goal. A punt single by Hamilton’s Josh Bartel made it 22-3 with 4:39 left in the half.
But the Hamilton offence’s failure to keep control of the ball allowed Toronto to score 10 points in the final four minutes. Prefontaine hit a 37-yard field goal, and on their next possession, the Argos drove the ball 56 yards on eight plays, including two pass interference penalties against the Ticats, setting up Jackson’s one-yard TD run.
Grant fumbled on Hamilton’s next possession with 53 seconds left to set up Prefontaine’s 44-yard attempt that would have pulled the Argos to within a touchdown. But he missed wide right and Williams did the rest to give his team a 29-13 lead at the half.
Alix hit an 18-yard field goal in the third quarter, but his 24-yard attempt a couple minutes later went wide and the Argos were down 29-17.
Toronto opened the fourth quarter finishing a 36-yard drive with Boyd’s five-yard TD run to pull to 29-24. Argo defensive back Evan McCollough intercepted Burris on the Ticats’ next possession, setting up Alix’s 19-yard field goal and it was 29-27, but Toronto would get no closer as Grant’s final TD sealed the win.