There’s something about Labour Day that brings out the best in Dane Evans, Frankie Williams and the rest of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Evans threw two TD passes while Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as Hamilton defeated the Toronto Argonauts 32-19 on Monday. With the win, the Ticats improved to 7-0 at Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day.
“We talk about every game is just the next game . . . and then you get to Labour Day,” Evans said. “When it’s Labour Day week, we emphasize, ‘It’s Labour Day. We don’t lose here on Labour Day.’
“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny, we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words.”
Williams, broke the game open at 7:41 of the third quarter as his huge return staked Hamilton to a 17-4 advantage. Williams was the CFL’s top special-teams player in 2019.
“Any quarter you can get a punt return for a touchdown is big,” said Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer. “For us, I think it was a big momentum swing, I thought it was huge for us.”
Evans put Hamilton ahead 25-4 at 12:40, first with a 57-yard TD pass to Tim White. He then found Jaelon Acklin for the two-point convert.
Toronto made it interesting when Nick Arbuckle found Eric Rogers on a 12-yard TD pass at 7:56. After hitting the convert, Boris Bede boomed an 80-yard single on the kickoff at 8:12 that cut Hamilton’s lead to 26-12.
WATCH | Tiger-Cats take Labour Day Classic win over Argos:
But a terrific 58-yard Joel Whitford punt, which wasn’t returned, put Toronto on its own 11-yard line with roughly 5:30 to play. Simoni Lawrence corralled a Jovan Santos-Knox deflection and returned the interception three yards for the TD at 10:12 to give Hamilton a 32-12 advantage.
“When you win in all three phases or contribute the way we did, you should win a lot of football games,” Steinauer said. “But winning is never guaranteed.
“Scoring on special teams, offence and defence, it’s a rare combination but we’ll take it and enjoy it.”
Hamilton (2-2) earned its second straight victory to move into a tie with Montreal (2-2) and Toronto atop the East Division standings. The Ticats also lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.
And the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000 — the most allowed under Ontario government protocols — loved every minute of it. After all, Hamilton played its first home game since a 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton on Nov. 18, 2019, a span of 659 days.
‘They just kicked out butts’
“When I was driving in . . . you didn’t know what to expect,” Steinauer reflected. “As you got closer and saw people three-and-a-half hours before the game wearing jerseys and yellow, it begins to sink in a little bit.
“It’s not just Labour Day and a lot of excitement but there’s a lot of relief, a lot of healing just for people being back in the stands. This was just an outstanding win . . . for the city of Hamilton and everybody that put all of their hard work in.”
The contest was certainly an emotional one, typical of Labour Day, and it ended with an on-field melee. But Toronto often found itself on the wrong end of penalties (nine for 93 yards, including four first-half unnecessary roughness calls) and most of the contest’s explosive plays.
“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block or pass protect well,” said Argos rookie head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. “They just kicked out butts, we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.
“We preached all week [about] penalties. We knew it was going to be a chippy game, it’s a rivalry game and you can’t have selfish penalties. We knew special teams was their edge and we have to do a better job of that.”
Evans finished 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two TDs. Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards and a touchdown but two interceptions before being replaced by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Bethel-Thompson had an eight-yard TD pass to Rogers late in the fourth.
Monday’s contest was the first of four this year between Hamilton and Toronto. The two teams square off again Friday at BMO Field.
“The best thing about this week is we get to line up again in a [few] days,” Evans said. “I’m already looking forward to that.”
Toronto will visit Tim Hortons Field again Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale slated for Nov. 12 in Toronto.
Evans made his second straight Labour Day start. He threw for 442 yards and two TDs and ran for another in leading Hamilton to a 38-27 victory in 2019.
Evans guided Hamilton to its first win of the year, a 27-10 road decision over Montreal on Aug. 27. He completed 15-of-22 passes for 183 yards and two TDs in his opening ’21 start.
David Ungerer III had Hamilton’s other touchdown. Michael Domagala booted a field goal and three converts while Whitford added a single.
Bede also had a field goal and two converts.