The final Labour Day contest at Hamilton's beloved Ivor Wynne Stadium will go down as a victory for the hated Toronto Argonauts after a thriller loaded with lead changes and the kind of dramatic plays that have epitomized this rivalry.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats let slip a 22-11 fourth-quarter lead and their despised foes ran back up the QEW with a 33-30 win. The Argos benefited from timely redemption for last week's goat cornerback Ahmad Carroll and for Chad Owens, who overcame two early blunders to amass over 400 multipurpose yards, the third-best single-game total in CFL history.
"It was magic," said Owens of the Argos' fourth-quarter efforts. "I believe it was the turning point for the season."
Argos quarterback Ricky Ray connected with Chad Owens repeatedly on the game-opening drive, including a 39-yard touchdown pass for an early 7-0 lead.
But Hamilton's standout return man Chris Williams answered for the Ticats by continuing his stellar season, setting two CFL records on the same play. He returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, his sixth return touchdown of the year, which set a new CFL record by eclipsing the five Gizmo Williams tallied with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1991. He also set a new league mark by having returned punts to the house in three straight games.
"We've got so many good players on this team, we've just got to figure out a way to win," said a disappointed Williams.
The Ticats took control with a trio of field goals by Luca Congi in addition to a Henry Burris touchdown pass to slotback Onrea Jones. Toronto's next two field-goal attempts failed, and it looked as though it was Hamilton's day – steam billowing from the stacks in Ivor Wynne's Steeltown backdrop, the rowdy Ticat fans in "Argos suck" T-shirts revelling in a Hamilton lead as the Tabbies' defence was starting to surge through the line and repeatedly drill Ray into the turf.
But in the fourth quarter, the Argos turned the game on its ear. First running back Chad Kackert scored on a one-yard run to bring the Argos within two points. Then Carroll intercepted a Burris pass and sailed into the end zone for a 27-22 lead. Carroll had saved face after Argos coach Scott Milanovich ripped into the former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers earlier this week for taking four penalties in Toronto's 26-17 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos last week.
"I'm really happy for Ahmad, because it was a tough week for him," Milanovich said. "Our team stuck by him and believed in him, and it was great to see him have that big play. He's got that knack and ability as a big-play guy."
The Argos added another field goal for insurance, but then Hamilton changed the tide again. Burris hit running back Brandon Rutley with a touchdown pass, then made good on the two-point conversion to David Stala.
The Argos raced down the field and kicked another field goal – set up by a dazzling one-handed catch by Owens – with just 26 seconds left, delivering Hamilton its fourth straight loss.
"I'm concerned because we've now lost four games in a row and all of them, we had an opportunity to win," said Hamilton coach George Cortez.
Toronto won just its 13th game in the 43-game history of the Labour Day series between the two rivals, which dates back to 1948.
"I had a turnover, I fumbled, we gave up a punt return for a touchdown. Everything went wrong for us to lose the game today, and for us to stick together and come out with a win," Owens said. "That's huge, and it speaks volumes about our character."
Ray completed 32 of 45 attempts for 375 yards on the day , while Burris converted 13 of 30 for 218 yards. Hamilton's Chevon Walker had 14 carries for 111 yards.
The 5-4 Argos and 3-6 Ticats meet again on Saturday in Toronto.