Jeremiah Masoli and Brandon Banks moved the Hamilton Tiger-Cats atop the East Division and left the Toronto Argonauts’ season on life support.
Masoli threw four TD passes — including two to Banks — to lead Hamilton to a 36-25 win over Toronto on Saturday afternoon. That gave the Ticats the home-and-home sweep following a 42-28 Labour Day victory at Tim Hortons Field.
Hamilton (6-5) clinched the season series with Toronto but also moved into a first-place tie with Ottawa in the East. The Redblacks and Ticats will play twice next month.
“It’s big, man, to get those back-to-back wins,” Masoli said. “Just the momentum overall going into this back stretch.
“Keeping them (Argos) behind us in the East standings is huge.”
Masoli finished 18-of-25 passing for 307 yards while rushing for 51 yards on eight carries. It was Masoli’s ninth 300-yard game this season, tying Henry Burris’s club record. Masoli completed 26-of-35 passes for 385 yards and three TDs on Monday.
“Jeremiah is a winner,” said Ticats coach June Jones. “I don’t know what else to say.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I sense that last year when we were playing and I’ve been around quarterbacks all my life. Jeremiah is a special kid.”
Masoli and Banks have become a deadly passing duo under Jones. Banks finished with six catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns Saturday after posting nine receptions for 135 yards and two TDs on Labour Day.
That put Banks over 1,000 yards for the second straight year (69 catches, career-best 1,033 yards, seven TDs). It was also his CFL-leading eighth 100-yard game, four short of the league record.
The five-foot-seven, 157-pound Banks was at his elusive best in the third when he went high to snag a Masoli pass between four Argos. Surprisingly, Banks was untouched after making the catch and outran the secondary for the 78-yard TD that put Hamilton ahead 25-13. Banks said after the game that he had a minor pain in his hip/groin but that he didn’t think it was serious.
“That’s just trusting he’ll be in the right spot and just put it in that spot,” Masoli said. “There was like three, four guys closing in on him and he just went up there with all that heart.
“We talked about being fearless coming into this game and that’s what he did out there.”
Added Banks: “I went up to go get it . . . and nobody hit me, I was on my feet still. So I just ran away. I definitely trust him to give me the opportunity so I have to make him look good and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Jones said Hamilton spent much time practising the play, but with bad results.
“We took a whole session in practice to run that route . . . and we didn’t do as good a job as we did,” he said. “Speedy jumped up between four people, maybe five, and took it to the house.
Toronto made it interesting with McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s 31-yard TD pass to S.J. Green at 12:56 of the fourth. But the two failed to connect on the two-point convert, leaving Hamilton ahead 36-25 and eventually hand the Argos (3-8) their third straight loss.
But Hamilton also dealt the defending Grey Cup champions’ playoff hopes a severe blow. Toronto remains tied for third in the East with Montreal but both teams entered action Saturday two wins behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-6) in the battle for the division’s final playoff spot.
Winnipeg would cross over to the East if the season ended this weekend.
“There’s a flicker of a team that’s capable when we play more consistently that at least has an opportunity to compete against what might be one of the best teams in the league today,” said Toronto head coach Marc Trestman. “We felt like we had a good plan and really self-destructed there on a couple of sequences.”
Masoli quieted the BMO Field gathering of 15,702 with a 34-yard TD strike to Alex Green at 7:18 of the fourth. He then hit Luke Tasker on the two-point convert to put Hamilton ahead 33-19.
Duron Carter saw action on offence and special teams in his Toronto debut. He had no catches but returned two punts for 13 yards.
James Wilder, with Hamilton minus defensive linemen Ted Laurent, Julian Howsare and Adrian Tracy, ran for 76 yards on 11 carries. Bethel-Thompson finished 27-of-42 passing for 295 yards with two TDs.
Armanti Edwards had nine catches for 112 yards while Green recorded eight receptions for 97 yards.
“I think everyone here is sick with it but that’s what we are, we’re a 3-8 football team,” said Bethel-Thompson. “Until that gets fixed, I don’t think anyone is going to be happy.
“I hope there are more wins in our future but adversity defines who you are. I think if we keep standing up to it, the tide is going to change eventually.”
Hamilton has won three straight but will host the West Division-leading Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night.
“That’s all good,” said Banks. “If you want to be the best you have to beat the best so that’s what we’re going to go out there to do.
“I don’t think I’ve ever beat Calgary so I’m definitely going to go out and play with a chip on my shoulder.”
Banks came precariously close to beating Calgary in the 2014 Grey Cup game. He registered a 90-yard punt return TD with 35 seconds remaining that was nullified by an illegal block penalty as the Stampeders held on for the 20-16 victory at B.C. Place Stadium.
Tasker had Hamilton’s other touchdown. Lirim Hajrullahu booted three converts, two field goals and single.
James Franklin and Armanti Edwards scored Toronto’s other touchdown. Zack Medeiros kicked two field goals and a convert.