Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich knew his team’s first half offensive woes were eventually going to haunt them.
It finally happened Friday night.
Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris found receiver Bakari Grant for two crucial plays, including a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, to give the Tiger-Cats a 33-19 win over Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
Burris completed 19 of 31 passes for 274 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also passed Ron Lancaster in the first quarter for fourth all-time on the CFL passing yards list (50,535 yards).
With the win, Hamilton (7-7) improved to .500, denying Toronto (9-5) a chance to clinch a home playoff game, and also keeping the Montreal Alouettes at bay for second place in the East.
For Milanovich, the lack of offence wasn’t the only reason for the Argos’ first loss in a month.
“Couldn’t get much rhythm in the first half, but that was our whole football team,” Milanovich said at the post-game press conference.
“Kept our defence on the field too long, but they have to get off the field. It was just a sloppy performance. Players didn’t play their best and coaches didn’t coach their best.”
The game started in an all-too-familiar fashion for Toronto. Repeating events of last week’s contest in Edmonton, the Argonauts were down 22-3 until late in the second quarter.
Burris got things going right away, connecting with receiver Dobson Collins on a 34-yard completion to pass Lancaster, then found Luke Tasker for a 24-yard touchdown to put Hamilton up 7-0 with 10:54 left in the first quarter.
C.J. Gable added a 25-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter after a Swayze Waters field goal to give Hamilton a 15-3 lead.
Toronto punted four times in the first half, and quarterback Zach Collaros threw a costly interception deep in Argos territory that was tipped and picked off by Ti-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence.
Lawrence returned the ball to the three-yard-line, where back-up quarterback Dan LeFevour ran in his fifth rushing touchdown of the season to give Hamilton the 22-3 lead.
Another Waters’ field goal cut the halftime deficit to 22-6.
Hamilton out-gained Toronto 249-137 in the first half, had 12 first downs, compared to the Argos’ six.
“If you keep putting yourself behind, it’s going to catch up to you. We made a little run there in the third quarter but give them credit,” Milanovich said.
“They were able to stay on the field and get some points and outscore us in the fourth quarter, and I don’t think we were ever able to close it closer than four.
“They played well, they’re a good football team — well coached, and they got the better of us tonight for sure.”
The Argonauts threatened to complete the comeback script again early in the third. After Waters’ third field goal of the game, linebacker Marcus Ball recovered a blocked punt at Hamilton’s three yard line.
Quarterback Zach Collaros ran in the touchdown to cut the deficit to 22-16, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
“Special teams did a great job of setting us up for one, but we can’t settle for field goals,” said Collaros, who completed 21-of-32 passes for 277 yards and an interception.
“Nineteen points is not going to win you games, especially against Henry Burris.”
Argonauts have 10 days off, before going to Hamilton for the second part of the home-and-home series.
That might be exactly what the Argos need. Toronto is 6-1 on the road, but only 3-4 at home.
For Collaros, those numbers don’t matter.
“For me at least I don’t read much into it, I don’t think anyone reads much into it, I think if you ask any football player it comes down to throwing the football, catching the football, blocking, tackling, all those things,” the second year quarterback said.
“You can say what you want about being at home or on the road, that’s just an excuse. We just have to play better.”
Ricky Ray was activated as the third string quarterback for the game, which will lead to speculation whether the three-time Grey Cup winner will be back in the line-up in Hamilton.
Milanovich, who is fully behind Collaros in the meantime, isn’t so sure as of yet.
“That really is still to be determined,” the coach said of Ray’s status. “I need to see some improvement from him. He’s made a lot of improvements as you guys have seen him out there throw (before the game).
“I would like to see him get a little better. Thankfully, we’ve got some time.
Notes: QB Zach Collaros was named CFL offensive player of the month on Thursday, after he completed 65 per cent of his passes for 1,299 yards and nine touchdowns … After going 1-of-4 on field goal attempts last week against Edmonton, kicker Swayze Waters was a perfect 3-for-3.. The Argonauts are now 3-4 at home, compared to 6-1 on the road … Hamilton linebacker Brandon Isaac played against the Argonauts for the first time since being released by the team in July, Isaac was a member of the Argos’ Grey Cup team.