A quarterback switch helped produce a much-needed win for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and a positive change for the Toronto Argonauts as well.
Dane Evans and Nick Arbuckle now look to duplicate successful first starts of the season when their respective teams square off Monday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field in the latest renewal of the Labour Day Classic.
The 2019 East Division champion Tiger-Cats got their title defence off to an undesirable start, having been dealt double-digit road losses to Winnipeg and Saskatchewan while mustering a scant 14 points combined. In hopes of jump-starting a sputtering offence, coach Orlando Steinauer benched quarterback Jeremiah Masoli during the Week 3 bye in favor of Evans, a 13-game starter during Hamilton’s run to the Grey Cup two years ago.
The move proved worthwhile in last week at Montreal, where Evans completed an efficient 15 of 22 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns to help the Tiger-Cats earn a crucial 27-10 victory.
Hamilton (1-2) also received a big boost from a defence that held the Alouettes to a season-low 258 total yards and didn’t allow a point in the second half.
“We knew if they were two-dimensional it was going to make it tough,” said Steinauer. “They’re a potent offense, they’re not a 2-and-out team very often.”
Toronto (2-1) got a similar lift from Arbuckle after coach Ryan Dinwiddie opted to start the third-year quarterback ahead of McLeod Bethel-Thompson for its Week 3 rematch with Winnipeg. The Georgia State product responded with 310 passing yards and a touchdown as the Argonauts came through with a 30-23 home victory that avenged a 20-7 road loss to the reigning Grey Cup champions a week earlier.
“I thought he did a great job,” Dinwiddie remarked. “He handled the huddle, made some good clean reads.”
Arbuckle did get plenty of support in his first start as an Argonaut. DaVaris Daniels had seven catches for 100 yards and a touchdown before leaving early in the third quarter with a concussion, while former NFL running back D.J. Foster added 101 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries in his Canadian debut.
Daniels is expected to play after having the benefit of an unintended bye for Toronto, which had last week’s scheduled game against Edmonton postponed by a COVID-19 outbreak among Elks players.
The Argos prevailed despite committing six fumbles and losing two, and Dinwiddie hopes the time off also molds his club into a sharper unit as it prepares for the first of two meetings between the longtime provincial rivals in five days. The teams will square off again in Toronto next Friday.
Toronto will be seeking to reverse recent history as well, as the Tiger-Cats head into their home opener with wins in all six matchups in the series over the previous two seasons.
“To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and Hamilton I feel is still the best team in the East,” Dinwiddie said. “We’ve got to go ahead and prove otherwise.”