With the way this Argos season has come along, the team’s slogan of “Pull Together” could not be more fitting.
Despite the ups and downs faced through week nine, the club showed resilience and unity in abundance in a gutsy come-from-behind 34-20 victory against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday night in front of 11,623 at BMO Field.
To Argonauts QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, games like this exemplify why this team has the cohesion to make some noise in the most important moments.
“We sacked up, we did it as a unit, and it was a really great team win,” Bethel-Thompson said. “We can feel that brotherhood coming together, when guys do that, everyone’s pulling the rope, guys pull harder.”
That team effort, punctuated by a clutch fourth-quarter blocked punt by Trevor Hoit, set the stage for an emotional comeback victory.
Hoit’s big play, which was scooped up by Benoit Marion and taken to the house, was the crescendo of a strong second half showing for the boatmen following a weak first half, as Toronto drew first blood in a 4-in-5 games QEW showdown to come.
The Argos’ (4-3) Bethel-Thompson was solid on the affair, though unspectacular for most of the contest, notching 230 yards and a lone aerial TD on 17-of-24 passing.
On the other end, Hamilton (2-6) starter Dane Evans looked good early, but sputtered towards the finish line, finishing with 302 yards and one TD and a late interception to seal things on 28-of-42 attempts.
It was Bethel-Thompson’s remarkable heroics in the third, evading pressure and slinging it to second-year wideout Cam Phillips, that turned the tide for the boys in double blue.
“It’s a role I’ve embraced, being the high-energy guy,” said Phillips post-game. “My role is just trying to be energetic, trying to keep things up, so if I’ve got to provide those plays then I’m ready for it.”
Toronto followed that momentum-changing play with an excellent defensive effort deep in Hamilton territory that resulted in a Cats’ safety, bringing the game to 17-16. A missed field goal by Boris Bede minutes later knotted things up at 17, setting the stage for a hero to emerge.
That’s where the Argos special teams made their mark. Having pressured Hamilton punter Michael Domagala all game, Toronto finally broke through, with Hoit sending the punt back at Hamilton’s own 45-yard-line and allowing Marion to waltz to the house for Toronto’s first lead.
“It’s huge,” head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. “We always talk about ‘We win the special teams battle we’ve got a good chance of winning the football game’, so I’m just proud of those guys.”
As has been typical of Bethel-Thompson’s offence, the Argos began the game lethargically, struggling to muster much of anything and punting away all three of their first-quarter drives.
On the other end, Evans and his receiving crew had their way in the early stages, dicing through a porous defence and racking up completions.
Toronto struggled in the early going to contain the club’s wideouts despite a depleted corps. The Cats racked up a sparkling 181 yards of offence in the first quarter alone to the Argos’ meagre 23 yards.
A pair of field goals on each side, plus a single from Hamilton were indicative of a slow-paced affair, as the teams went into the locker rooms at halftime with a 14-6 Hamilton lead.
“We were kind of tight in the first half,” said Argos linebacker Wynton McManis. “Everybody wants to make the right play, everybody wants to be intense, and I just feel like we don’t play our best ball when we’re that way.”
Toronto finally got the ball rolling out of the break. After a lengthy six-minute Hamilton drive to begin the half resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Seth Small, Bethel-Thompson hooked up with Phillips for a momentum-altering 49-yard completion.
That momentum would result in the Bethel-Thompson and Phillips duo flipping the script on the affair, putting the Argos in striking distance before the rest of the squad picked up the pace.
The clubs traded field goals late in the fourth before Argos linebacker Chris Edwards sealed the deal with a pick-six to slam the door, sealing the bounceback come from behind win for Toronto in the QEW showdown.
Toronto’s victory keeps them atop the Eastern Division, two wins up on Hamilton with a game in hand. Game two of the series goes next Friday night under the lights at Tim Horton’s field.
NOTES: Ti-Cats top receiver Bralon Addison, who started hot with 52 yards on just three catches, left the game with an injured ankle that resulted in an extended delay … The Ti-Cats battled injuries throughout the affair, as six different players had to be taken off … Toronto Argos Brandon Calver and Hamilton Tiger-Cats Malik Carney were ejected in the fourth quarter for shenanigans after the play … Toronto’s late comeback is nothing out of the ordinary for the boatmen, as they had scored 66 of their points this season in the fourth quarter.