Everyone ready for the latest round in the Battle of Ontario?
This game sure looks a lot different than it did the last time these two teams locked horns at Ivor Wynne Stadium (August 13, 2011). The two quarterbacks were Kevin Glenn (traded) and Cleo Lemon (released). The head coaches were Marcel Bellefeuille (fired) and Jim Barker (resigned; now solely the team's General Manager). Maurice Mann was on the Ti-Cats, now he's an Argo; Dee Webb was an Argo, now he's a Ti-Cat. Andy Fantuz was still in Chicago trying to make the Bears, and nobody in their right mind thought that Henry Burris and Ricky Ray would be in any provincial battle other than the one in Alberta. Just goes to show how much can change in the CFL in 11 months.
This is a big game for both teams. The Argos can keep pace with the Alouettes with a win, and Hamilton can finally get their first win and move into a tie for second with the Argos. A win for the Ti-Cats would also render moot all the talk of locker-room problems.
And speaking of big games, I can't be the only one that thinks one or both of Andy Fantuz and Sam Giguère are due for big games. Chris Williams has been the team's most consistent receiving threat the first two weeks, and Dave Stala emerged as (surprise, surprise) a reliable set of hands last week in BC, so I think it is time for the other two Canuck pass catchers to step up and make some plays.
Hamilton's defense, despite what people might have you believe, actually played a good game in BC last year. Did the Ti-Cats give up 39 points? Yes they did, but the defense could really only be charged with giving up 23 of those points. The Ti-Cats conceded a safety, gave up a punt return touchdown and Burris had a pass intercepted that was returned to the one-yard line. The defensive line, despite recording no sacks, did put some pressure on Travis Lulay and forced him out of the pocket numerous times. The secondary also put the clamps on BC's terrific receiving corps by allowing Lulay to throw for less than 180 passing yards. Take away the mistake made by the other two units and the defense's output doesn't look so bad. They will need to have a similar performance if they hope to beat the Argos. Ricky Ray is the league's top passer and getting him out of his rhythm will be a key to the game.
Another thing the Ti-Cats will have to do is stop Chad Owens. While I think Owens is an overrated player, he is still deadly weapon in the return game. Owens, however, has never had a really good game against the Ti-Cats. He has never scored a return touchdown against them and the Cats will hope to keep that scoreless streak alive. Stopping him has not been a problem in the past, but it will still be important tonight.
The Hamilton offense looked to finally come alive in the fourth quarter against the Lions and that type of performance over 60 minutes against the Argos will lead to a Hamilton victory. The defense looks improved, the special teams have something to prove and the offense looks like it's ready to explode; all those things could lead to good things for the Ti-Cats when the game kicks off at 7:00PM tonight at Ivor Wynne Stadium.