TORONTO — Trevor Harris relishes the challenge of playing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for a second time in four days.
The Toronto Argonauts face their archrivals at Rogers Centre on Friday night with the memory of their 42-12 Labour Day thumping at Tim Hortons Field still fresh in their minds. The quick turnaround suits Harris just fine.
“It’s great,” he said. “We just got our heads beat in (Monday). It’s an opportunity for us to avenge that. We’ve got an excited group, a focused group.
“We just have to go out there and execute our gameplan.”
Toronto (6-4) has had its problems with Hamilton (7-3) this season. The Ticats have won both meetings by a combined 76-30 margin to clinch the season series.
“Everyone wants to talk about this being a rivlary game but we’ve got to make it a rivalry game,” Harris said. “It’s not really a rivalry if you get beat by 30 points.
“We’ve got to go out and make sure we’re on our Ps and Qs. We’ve got to earn some respect.”
On Monday, Hamilton had 502 net yards, a blocked punt and scored on its first five possessions (three TDs, two field goals) for a commanding 27-1 halftime lead. Quarterback Zach Collaros completed 26 of 38 passes for 400 yards and four TDs.
“This team (Ticats) seems to thrive on making a special-teams play early in a game and running you out of the gym before you can get a breath,” Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said. “We need to not let that happen, we need to keep it a game and see how they respond in the fourth quarter of a tight game.”
Harris completed 24 of 34 passes for 211 yards with a TD and interception against Hamilton. This week, Milanovich challenged his first-year starter to be better.
“For the past seven or eight games Zach has been playing as good as anybody I’ve ever seen play in this league,” Milanovich said. “I’m not asking (Harris) to be Zach … Trevor just needs to make the throws when they’re available.
“That’s what must happen when the other quarterback is hot.”
Harris is taking a matter-of-fact approach to Friday night’s game.
“I’m just looking forward to executing the gameplan,” he said.
Hamilton can sweep the regular-season series with Toronto but more importantly move four points ahead of the Argos in the battle for top spot in the East. The team finishing first secures an opening-round playoff bye and the right to host the division final.
“There’s still a lot of football left,” said Kent Austin, Hamilton’s head coach and GM. “Creating separation is important but I’m not sure with the amount of games left that it would make much difference if we don’t keep playing well.”
A big part of Hamilton’s success has been its ability to force turnovers. The Ticats lead the CFL in interceptions (14), total takeaways (32) and turnovers on downs (11).
Hamilton’s defence has scored a league-leading eight TDs (six on interception returns, two on fumble returns) and the Ticats have scored a CFL-best 121 points off turnovers.
“We believe the two most important stats in football are turnover ratio and big plays, explosive plays,” Austin said. “When you combine those two together and you win in both categories, whether you’re at home or on the road, you have a very very high probability of winning football games.
“The difference this year is we’re getting a lot more turnovers and explosive plays off those turnovers … that’s really helped us.”
This is a difficult stretch for Toronto, which dropped a 38-15 road loss to Edmonton prior to their Labour Day contest. Milanovich is eager to see how his team handles its adversity Friday night.
“What I really want to see is that they get themselves emotionally ready to play the game,” he said. “That they’re into it … that I see it in their eyes in the locker-room, that I see it during the national anthem, that I see it throughout four quarters.
“If that happens then we have a chance to win this game and play well. If it doesn’t then we won’t win the game.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press