Veteran quarterback Henry Burris wasn't mincing words. If his Hamilton Tiger-Cats can't beat the Toronto Argonauts on Thanksgiving Day, last week's victory will be rendered meaningless.
Last Friday in Toronto, the Ticats ended the Argos' four-game win streak and edged closer to their East Division-leading rivals in the standings. With just four games left in the season, the second-place Tabbies (7-7) trail Toronto (9-5) by two – so when the two meet again Monday in Guelph, Ont., the Ticats can either take a convincing stride closer to stealing the division or slink backward again.
For a CFL team that has struggled to string together consecutive wins this year, Burris says a victory could have a real galvanizing effect.
"It was very encouraging to go to their house, with the streak that they've been on, and bounce back and get a big win against a team that we've been so close with for so long," Burris said. "It was good to finally get over that hump, but this game is even more important – because if we don't win this game, the game we won last Friday means nothing."
The Southern Ontario rivals have split their two meetings this season. Both have already clinched playoff spots, but the division title – and home-field advantage – is still in play. Defending Grey Cup champion Toronto has held its spot atop the East for much of the season, while Hamilton managed a single win streak – a three-game stint in August.
Yet, last week, the Ticats found a way to do what many CFL teams haven't this season: put the brakes on an Argos late-game comeback attempt.
"Last game showed what we can really do when we come together," running back C.J. Gable said. "Even when they were starting to catch up, we were still pushing."
The Argos have yet to announce whether they will start veteran quarterback Ricky Ray, who returned to practice after being sidelined six weeks with a shoulder injury. Otherwise, it will be Zach Collaros, the backup who led the Argos to four wins in six starts in Ray's absence.
"Obviously, Ricky Ray is better with the ball, he makes his decisions more crisply and he'll hit the open guy, but we've got lots of film on him, and our defensive co-ordinator coached in Toronto last year, so we'll be prepared," Ticats linebacker Jamall Johnson said. "But they have a good running game, too, and they may want to run it a little more to give Ricky time to get comfortable if he plays.
"We have a chance to take out a division leader here and set ourselves up for a title, and we know we can't do that unless we take care of business against Toronto. We started the season slow, but we knew with the coaching staff we have and the kind of talent we have in this locker room, we could be in this position."
The Ticats finished 6-12 last season and missed the playoffs, their last chance to get in doused by a loss to the Argonauts in the final game of the year.
"Toronto is already in the playoffs, and they'll be a team we need to reckon with if we want to make it to the Grey Cup," Burris said. "In order to be the champ, we'll have to beat the champ.
"If we're able to get this one, it will really give us the mental edge going into the playoffs and the last three games, the feeling that we can beat anybody. We need this win to go on that kind of run that we've seen so many teams go on this time of year."