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Argos can’t beat Labour Day curse, falling to Tiger-Cats for sixth consecutive year

Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Alex Green (15) runs toward the end zone during second half CFL football game action against the Toronto Argonauts in Hamilton, Ont. on Monday, September 3, 2018.

Peter Power/The Canadian Press

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the Toronto Argonauts on Labour Day for a fifth consecutive year and increased the gap between the two Ontario rivals in the race for a playoff spot in the CFL’s East Division.

The Tiger-Cats had two touchdowns each from Alex Green and Brandon Banks, while Jeremiah Masoli completed 26 of 35 passes for 385 yards, three scores and one interception, as the Tiger-Cats won 42-28 at Tim Hortons Field. They improved to 5-5, while the Argos fell to 3-7.

It was a second straight win for a Ticats team that had an inconsistent start to the season, but has now strung together two straight solid wins, following up their victory over the Edmonton Eskimos last week.

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Argos quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, in his fourth career start, completed 14 of 29 passes for 163 yards and one interception, while backup pivot James Franklin was responsible for three Toronto scores in goal-line situations.

It was the first leg of a home-and-home series between the two teams likely battling for the second playoff spot in the CFL’s lackluster East Division. The Ottawa Redblacks currently appear in the drivers’ seat to take the top seed in the East, while the third spot looks increasingly like it may go to a crossover team from the West.

A severe lightning storm had hit Hamilton on Monday afternoon in the hours before game time. A pregame concert scheduled for a plaza on the stadium grounds had to be cancelled after stage equipment was damaged in the storm.

But skies cleared well before kickoff and the 6:30 p.m. game began under bright sunshine with a rainbow before a crowd of 24,221. The usual rowdy bellows of “Oskee WeeWee” and “Argos Suck” sounded from the Hamilton faithful.

The Ticats opened the scoring on their first possession of a wild first half, executing a 77-yard drive that was aided by two Toronto penalties. Green capped it off by rumbling in for a six-yard touchdown run.

Six minutes later, the Tabbies struck again on their second possession – going 91 yards in just five efficient plays. It culminated in Masoli connecting with receiver Luke Tasker, who streaked 56 yards to the end zone. It was 5-foot-7 Banks who sprinted down field to provide the block that enabled Tasker to get free for the final stretch.

Two of the Argos biggest stars were on the sidelines in street clothes for this Labour Day clash. Recently acquired star receiver Duron Carter was active, but did not play, and Grey Cup-winning quarterback Ricky Ray, who is still recovering from the neck injury he suffered in June.

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The Argonauts got on the board just inside the second quarter, with a one-yard scoring burst over the line by backup quarterback James Franklin.

Then the Argos roared back and tied the game, as Franklin passed to former Ticat Ryan Bomben, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound right guard who snuck off the offensive line and darted into the endzone. The surprise diving catch for three yards was the Canadian lineman’s first CFL career touchdown grab.

The Ticats charged down the field looking to pull ahead just before halftime. They appeared to be jinxed, as Masoli took aim at a wide-open Brandon Banks in the end zone, but his pass clanged off the uprights.

“It was probably frustrating for him because he thought he had in in there, and I think that was probably a touchdown with me wide open in the endzone,” said Banks. “But we showed resilience and moved on to the next snap.”

With just 17 seconds left in the half, Banks got open in there again, and this time Masoli hit him with a perfect 19-yard scoring strike, resulting in a 21-14 lead. It was another recent example of how Ticats June Jones – who took over the team exactly one year ago – has opted to use Banks more as a receiver and not just a return man.

Taking full advantage of the CFL’s new relaxed rules on touchdown celebrations, a chorus line of Ticats players rejoiced with a choreographed dance.

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The Ticats were just shy of another score early in the second half, as Green was thundering toward the endzone, when Toronto’s Ronnie Yell forced the ball from his arms. His fellow Argo defensive back Alden Darby scooped up the ball and took it 100 yards the other direction to even the game 21-21. Masoli appeared to trip over his own feet attempting to tackle him.

Toronto took the lead instead, as Bethel-Thompson orchestrated a nine play drive before Franklin once again came in to cap it off, surging over the line on a two-yard quarterback sneak.

After the Ticats failed to find the endzone on several occasions in the fourth quarter, they twice settled for field goals from Liam Hajrullahu, and pulled to within one point of the Argos.

Then Hamilton safety Mike Daly picked off a pass from Bethel-Thompson, setting up a prime opportunity for the Tabbies deep in Toronto territory. Green capitalized with a 19-yard touchdown run in and then also nabbed a short pass from Masoli for the two-point conversion, and a 35-28 Hamilton lead.

Masoli then hit Banks for the score that sealed the game – a 27-yard pass. Banks finished with nine catches for 135 yards and was the leading receiver on Labour Day, just like last year. Green had 18 carries for 115 yards.

“We finished two games in a row, and that’s what we hadn’t been doing. That feeling we had last week is contagious,” said the Ticats Coach. “Even when bad things happened – and there was a 14-point swing when they took it back for a touchdown. And we overcame it.”

Toronto hasn’t won the Labour Day Classic since 2012.

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