It’s an indication as to just how far the Toronto Argonauts have come that a crowd of over 30,000 is considered mildly disappointing. The buzz around the Argos on Thursday was that possibly forty thousand lost football souls would make the trek to Skydome for the Tiger Cat/Argo match up with the winner taking second place in the CFL East. While they came up a tad short, the Argos still attracted the largest crowd to a football game in Toronto since 1992, a rather impressive step up and sure sign of the turnaround taking place in Ontario.
Regardless of the mild shortfall, the 30,369 that did click through the turnstiles were treated to a wonderful football game, which began as a blow out and ended up as a barn burner.
The Argos on the strength of their special teams were off to the races early, very early as Bashir Levingston ran back the opening kick off 97 yards for the opening score of the night, Levingston would strike again on a return, as the Argos then went on to put together a 28-0 lead before the first fifteen minutes were up. Greg Marshall’s team finally shook off the shock and began to claw their way back as the first quarter was coming to an end.
Hamilton QB Danny McManus found receiver Chris Yeast on an eighteen yard pass to wrap up the first quarter, giving the Ti Cats a bit of hope and more importantly determination to get back into the game. McManus also took care of some personal business during the game, achieving a CFL Milestone becoming only the third quarterback in CFL history to pass 50,000 yards in passing.
Collecting 17 second half points the Cats sent a message to the Argos that the Eastern Semi final in two weeks a Friday night match up will most likely be yet another CFL classic between to age old rivals. In fact were it not for the special team breakdowns in this game the Ti Cats may have been hosting that eastern semi final at Ivor Wynne. Expect the Hamilton players to be firmly schooled in the art of special team’s coverage schemes for the next two weeks.
The Argos held on for the 38-31 victory the final points on the strength of replacement kicker Chris Hardy, who normally handles back up safety duties, Hardy was called into action when Argo kicker Noel Prefontaine suffered a hip injury, causing him to barely be able to walk by games end. Hardy, found the range three times with field goals, including one from 40 yards out a fairly respectable performance on short notice.
The Argos gave Damon Allen the ball for the game as he continues to try and get his regular season form back, having just returned from a leg injury Allen has been finding the timing and comfort level he would like in the Argo backfield. He didn’t have a particularly effective game on Thursday, completing 12 of 20 passes and running in a touchdown of his own.
With the Argos claiming second place the CFL is faced with having to move the Eastern semi final from its usual Sunday afternoon time to a Friday night presentation. An Australian kids group called the Wiggles have booked the Skydome for the semi final weekend, moving the Argos and Cats ahead by two days. Regardless, it should make for an exciting night of football and perhaps in two weeks the Argos will break the attendance of that 1992 date, with a chance to advance to the Eastern final in Montreal, there just may be that anticipated 40,000 plus in the stands.
The way these two teams have bounced back from their near death experiences last year, it would be a much deserved reward for their hard work! One thing is certain, the preview on Thursday sets up a wonderful feature attraction in two weeks.