A date with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division semifinal has been set for Nov. 14, but the Toronto Argonauts (8-8) can’t look that far ahead of themselves.
First, they must close out their season with a home-and-home set against the first-place Montreal Alouettes (11-5), beginning Friday at the Rogers Centre (7 p.m. ET).
Although Montreal has clinched a birth in the East final and the game essentially meaningless, Toronto can expect a spirited effort out of the defending Grey Cup champs.
The Alouettes are coming off an embarrassing 40-3 road loss to Hamilton last week, their worst performance of the season.
“When you play poorly you always want to bounce back,” quarterback Anthony Calvillo told reporters after practice Thursday. “We’re looking to get back on to the field and make sure we win these next two games.”
Montreal will start its regulars, who are no doubt chomping at the bit to regain their winning ways.
The Als will also benefit from the return of injured players like receiver Kerry Waktins and kicker Damon Duval.
However, Argos coach Jim Barker is embracing the challenge.
“I’m glad they are bringing their A team, that they are bringing their guys to come here and try to get their guys back on track,” Barker told reporters following practice Thursday.
“That is what makes this game meaningful, so for us it’s fantastic. We know they are going to come in here and try to make a statement to us. “
Toronto will need improvements out of the offence in order to keep up with Montreal.
Quarterback Cleo Lemon moved the ball effectively in a playoff-clinching 28-7 road victory over Winnipeg last Saturday, and will need to continue his improvement.
Lemon completed 17-of-29 pass attempts for 212 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. It was the first time in eight games the Argos’ offence converted more than score.
“I want him to progress into becoming a quarterback who can go 3-0 in [the playoffs],” Barker said.
“Has he learned [this season]? Absolutely. Has he gone through some rough spots? Absolutely. Has he had the media down his [butt]? Absolutely. That’s part of being a quarterback.
“He has handled that stuff well and we’re going to see where he is these next two weeks and then we’re going to go as far as he takes us.”
Although Toronto has already clinched a playoff spot, it can’t take a week off.
Breakout running back Cory Boyd is expected to see plenty of action despite nursing a sore ankle.
“Our offence is not at a point where we need to be to win a Grey Cup,” Barker said. “He needs to play. We’re not going to be idiotic about it, I have seen teams that start resting people and we are nowhere near a team that can do that.”
The Argos still have a slim shot at earning second place in the East and hosting the semifinal game. It would take two straight wins over the Als coupled with two Hamilton (9-7) losses.
The teams have split the two games this year — Montreal winning 41-10 on July 29 and Toronto 37-22 on Aug. 14.