Sunday, November 07, 2004

Boatmen chart course for up the St. Lawrence

The Argos are packed and ready for the trip to Montreal. With a convincing 24-6 victory over the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Pinball Clemons can claim vindication for his decision of seven days earlier to rest his players for the “big game”.

The Argos were fully dominant over the Cats in Friday night’s 24-6 victory helped out by dedicated attempt by the Cats to put themselves in the hole frequently. The Tiger Cats were their own worst enemy on Friday night, taking far too many penalties at the wrong time. Bringing back key plays and giving up valuable field position throughout the Eastern semi final contest.

The Argos responded well to the largest crowd in Skydome for many years as the two teams provided hard nosed, smash mouth football to entertain the almost 38,000 in attendance. Great defence, special team achievements and points when required set the tone for the game. The Cats did not score their points until the very late stages, avoiding the fate of being shut out in the Eastern semi final.

The Argo defence boxed in Danny McManus nicely sacking him twice, rushing his passes frequently and intercepting him twice, one from Kenny Wheaton that went back for a CFL playoff record return of 116 yards for a touchdown. That TD, effectively closed the season for the Cats with a huge exclamation point. Marcus Brady then entered the game for the final three minutes and engineered the drive that broke the goose egg keeping the Cats away from trivia time answers for this season at any rate.

Noel Prefontaine was a one man wrecking crew for the Argos, pinning the Ti Cats deep in their own end time after time, and leaving them with little to know field position. He also converted two touchdowns, kicked three of four field goals and even punted a single for good measure accounting for half of the Argo offensive output in the defensive struggle.

Described as a war by Damon Allen, the Argos managed to turn back the crushing Tiger Cat defence at key times to keep possession of the ball and set up the Prefontaine kicks. There was much extra curricular pushing and shoving as the two long time rivals refused to back down even after the whistle had gone. In fact it was some of that extra curricular animosity that put the Ti Cats into a hole from which they eventually could not get out of.

In the end the game ended up as most thought it would, the Argos advancing and the Ti Cats celebrating what has actually been a remarkable season that came up just a little bit short. Greg Marshall can’t be too distraught over the result, his team played it’s traditional hard hitting style of ball, but offensively they couldn’t move the ball and that cost them in the end. But it certainly gives them a solid foundation to build on for next year. Having rebuilt their fan base, they will be expected to improve even more next year and challenge even further into the playoffs. With a possible sea change in the CFL East next year as Montreal and Toronto get older, the Cats can look back fondly on 2004 and with great anticipation for 2005!

Off the field, the win helps to continue the path of rebuilding launched by its new local owners, the huge crowd and renewed interest a wonderful trend for the two locals who took a chance on a Canadian tradition. The successful season can keep going for a couple of weeks, should the Argonauts keep up their momentum. For the Argos there is much work to do, the Alouettes will be facing them for the third consecutive Eastern final in Montreal in front of a huge, loud and intimidating Big O crowd. The Als have had the Argos number the last few years, Pinball will have to hope that his players are prepared to leave it all on the field next Sunday afternoon.

It’s a much anticipated match up that brings two of the largest CFL markets into a winner take all game to advance to the Grey Cup. The CBC ad reps must be thanking their lucky stars for a match up like that, in addition to the Saskatchewan/BC match up in the evening, the day should be guaranteed to bring huge numbers to the network and show just how far from the brink the CFL has come in a very short period of time.

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