After a two-hour lightning delay, with a new coach and a backup quarterback at the helm, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats finally snapped an eight-game losing skid and earned their first win of the season in a wild game that ended late Monday night.
In a storm-interrupted Labour Day Classic that took five hours from start to finish, the Tiger-Cats beat the Toronto Argonauts 24-22 after a wild back-and-forth fourth-quarter.
Ticats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli completed 19 of his 33 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown and one interception in his first start of the year, as the Ticats improved to 1-8, while the Argos fell to 4-7.
Ricky Ray was 34-of 47 for 325 yards and two touchdowns and one pick in Toronto's loss.
The day began with all the trimmings of a Labour Day Classic, like parking lots near Tim Horton's Field buzzing with tailgaters, Ticats fans hollering "Argos suck," and a live band belting out music from a pop-up stage on a warm and sunny afternoon. But ominous weather reports warned of approaching thunderstorms while brisk winds swirled. The game though, well before the storm would arrive, had something Labour Day Classics rarely have in Hamilton: pockets of empty seats (despite the fact that the attendance was announced at 23,926, a sellout).
It marked June Jones' first game as Hamilton's head coach following what had been a tumultuous 10 days for the club. Vice President of Football Operations Kent Austin replaced himself as head coach with Jones, and the team hired Art Briles as assistant coach, who last year was fired as head coach of Baylor University's team in the fallout of a sexual assault scandal within his program. The hiring was met with such widespread scorn that the team quickly reversed course, finally convinced by CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie to cut ties with Briles.
Whether some fans were irked by their team's questionable ethics, the unconventional 6:30 pm E.T time on Labour Day, the lousy weather forecast or Hamilton's 0-8 start, there were plenty of empty seats.
Masoli made his first start Hamilton's season, relegating Zach Collaros to the backup role for the first time since he arrived in Hamilton in 2014. Collaros had lost 12 straight games as a starter.
Masoli threw an interception on Hamilton's first offensive series, a pass intended for Brandon Banks tossed right into the hands of Toronto linebacker Marcus Ball. The Argos weren't able to turn that favourable field position into a touchdown, but they did get a field goal out of it.
Minutes later, Ray threw a pick, nabbed by Hamilton linebacker Richard Leonard. The punchless Ticats squandered the opportunity. In the ensuing series, Banks failed to haul in a decent ball from Masoli – shades of the late-game catch the receiver bobbled in the Ticats' recent loss to Ottawa.
The next points weren't put on the board until early in the second quarter, when Lirim Hajrullahu made his second field goal of the night for Hamilton.
With eight minutes left in the second quarter and the Argos up 6-0, an enormous crack of lightning sent the game into a delay and fans were asked to leave their seats for the concourses. The skies then opened up with torrential rains followed by more thunder and lightning.
Fans in thin yellow rain ponchos crowded into concourses. Many just gave up and fled to their cars. Around 9:00 E.T., CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie showed up in the press box with armloads of pizza slices and hand-delivered them to reporters.
After a delay of two hours and eight minutes, the game resumed in the second quarter, played before an even thinner crowd. A wide Toronto field goal attempt that resulted in conceded single point was the most interesting thing fans saw in the opening few minutes.
Hamilton finally got on the board just before the quarter ended, with a season-high 57-yard field goal by Sergio Castillo. The teams took just a two-minute half-time break, and then came a major turn of events.
Two Tiger-Cats touchdowns came in a span of 25 seconds. Masoli and Banks connected on 64-yard touchdown pass. Then on the ensuing kickoff return, Toronto's Martese Jackson fumbled the ball, and Hamilton' Felix Faubert-Lussier recovered it and delivered 14 yards for a touchdown, giving the Ticats a sudden 17-7 lead.
The Argos countered with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Ray to DeVier Posey. The duo did it again a few minutes later, this time for 16 yards, seizing the lead back for Toronto.
Then the tide turned again. Toronto's Rico Murray was called for pass interference on Hamilton's Luke Tasker – a penalty that put the Ticats right on the goal line. C.J Gable ran it in to give the Tabbies the lead yet again.
Hajrullahu's field goal attempt with 45 seconds left was wide, giving Toronto just a single point instead of tying the game. Hamilton should have been able to run out the clock from there, but it was stopped due to an objectionable. Toronto ended up with the chance to throw a Hail Mary from way deep, which they gave to backup Cody Fajardo, but it fell short.
The Argos haven't beat the Ticats in the Labour Day Classic since 2012.