Zach Collaros and the Hamilton defence made the Tiger-Cats' debut at Tim Hortons Field a victorious one.
Collaros threw for 317 yards and a TD in his first game against his former team while a stingy Hamilton defence held Toronto to just 146 net yards as the Ticats edged the Argonauts 13-12 before an energetic Labour Day Monday gathering of 18,135.
"I can't say enough about the fans," Collaros said. "They really carried us through that whole game and I think it helped us.
"Anytime you can shut down a Hall of Fame quarterback like Ricky Ray, holding him to 12 points and they play defence like that, we better win the game. We did just enough to do so."
Collaros finished 27-of-38 passing against Toronto, the team with which he spent two seasons backing up Ray before signing with Hamilton this off-season as a free agent. The game was also Collaros's first since suffering a concussion July 4 against Edmonton.
Toronto (3-7) suffered its third straight loss yet remains atop the East Division. However Hamilton (2-6) and Montreal (2-7) are tied for second with Ottawa (1-8), just four points back.
Although Hamilton's offence had 22 first downs and 364 total yards, it was also its own worst enemy with untimely penalties and the inability to finish drives. Hamilton was flagged 17 times for 111 yards and receiver Bakari Grant and running back Moissis Madu both dropped first-half TD passes.
Fortunately, Hamilton's defence was stellar, holding Toronto to just nine first downs. Ray finished 16-of-29 passing for 142 yards and became the youngest player in CFL history to reach 50,000 career passing yards, but didn't achieve the milestone until connecting with Jason Barnes on a 37-yard completion in the fourth quarter.
Still, Toronto had two late shots to pull out the win. The offence took the ball at its 32-yard line after recovering Madu's fumble with 32 seconds remaining, but the Ticats tackled Mike Bradwell on the game's final play to preserve the win.
And earlier in the fourth, backup Jeremiah Masoli fumbled at the Toronto one-yard line, which Jamie Robinson recovered and lateraled to Vincent Agnew to give the Argos the ball at their 20-yard line.
"It's about time we had something good happen to these men in this room and how hard they practised and played and prepared," said Ticats head coach/GM Kent Austin. "That being said, we dropped two touchdown passes, we fumbled on the one-yard line.
"Thank goodness the defence played so well. They gave us an opportunity to win."
Tim Hortons Field was impressive despite sections still remaining a construction zone as work continues there.
As a result, the seating capacity for Monday's game was about 18,000 – which included Canadian John Saunders and Chris Berman of ESPN – roughly 6,000 short of capacity once the facility is finally completed.
And that didn't take away from the party-like atmosphere as fans began their traditional "Argos Suck" chant shortly after the visitors came to the field, then broke out into a loud rendition of "Oskie Wee Wee," after Hamilton's Frederic Plesius recovered Trent Guy's fumble on the opening kickoff to set up Justin Medlock's 29-yard field goal just 1:25 into the contest.
Toronto's issues were turnovers as twice they lost fumbles on special teams, as well as a Ray interception. Swazye Waters was the club's most potent weapon, averaging 53.5 yards on 13 punts.
"It's very disappointing," said Argos head coach Scott Milanovich. "To waste such a good effort by our defence and the way they stood up and forced that turnover at the one-yard line to give us a chance and we couldn't take advantage of it."
"It's a tough one to take. It's turnovers again. That's the name of the game and we've got to find a way to hold on to the football."
Toronto is off till Sept, 13 when it visits the Calgary Stampeders. The expectation is injured slotbacks Chad Owens and Andre Durie – two key figures in the Argos' offensive attack – will both be back. "I'm looking forward to getting Chad and Dre [Durie] back and getting back to work," Milanovich said. "They [Argos players] believe this will turn around for them and if you can't dream it's not going to happen.
"Give them credit, they were great on defence but I felt like we think we let one slip away. We had this game for the taking … nothing will take away from the fact we couldn't get a field goal in the fourth quarter to win the game."
Ray said there's a simply solution to cure Toronto's woes: Play better.
"You can't feel sorry or wait for something good to happen," he said. "We're just not playing good enough to win right now.
"Offensively that's sustaining drives and we're not staying out there and putting good drives together. We turned the football over which hurt us. We've just got to get back to playing good football, that's the bottom line."
Hamilton improved to 27-13-1 all-time on Labour Day versus Toronto as both teams donned their signature third jerseys – white and powder blue for Toronto, black with gold numbers for Hamilton.
The second half featured precious little offence as Medlock's conceded safety at 2:34 of the third accounted for all the scoring.
Grant had Hamilton's touchdown. Medlock had two field goals and a convert.
Guy scored Toronto's touchdown. Waters added the convert and single, with the other points coming on two safeties.
Ray's 20-yard TD strike to Guy at 14:38 cut Hamilton's half-time lead to 13-10, a score that flattered the Argos given they had just 89 total yards offensively the entire first half, 98 of which came on the Guy touchdown march. The Ticats did their part with two crucial penalties on the drive and were flagged 13 times for 87 yards in the first half alone.
Waters was Toronto's first-half star with an 80-yard punt single and twice putting Hamilton on its one-yard line with booming boots.
Hamilton dominated play in the opening quarter, starting with Plesius' fumble recovery on the opening kickoff then when Collaros hit Grant on a nine-yard TD strike at 7:06 to put the Ticats ahead 10-1. The Tim Hortons Field faithful celebrated the first-ever touchdown at the stadium by throwing the promotional mini footballs they received prior to the contest on to the field.
Ray was 7-of-16 passing for 65 yards while Collaros completed 14-of-18 attempts for 189 yards.