Argonauts ride defensive gust to win over Tiger-Cats
Now the Hamilton Tiger-Cats know just how valuable Danny McManus is.
The Tabbies walked into the Skydome without their star pivot Saturday and walked out with an offence that had been de-clawed, de-fanged, and destroyed by the Toronto Argonaut defensive corps.
The Argo defence victimized McManus' replacements, turning four turnovers into touchdowns as Toronto defeated Hamilton 29-12.
"Before the game I told our players that people were saying our defence was one of the best in the league," Argos coach Mike Clemons said. "But in order to win this game and the Grey Cup, we have to be the best defence in the league.
"They went out and played like the best defence in the league."
It was a very big win for the Argonauts, who improved their record to 4-9-1 and still cling to playoff hopes. Under Clemons, who many thought would effectively sink the Argo ship, Toronto has a record of 3-1.
Hamilton (8-6, two overtime losses) has lost two straight, including last week's loss to Montreal, and is now tied with the Alouettes for first in the East.
Losing to the Als last week was doubly costly for Hamilton, as the Tiger-Cats also lost McManus to injury in the game.
Billy Dicken, who filled in for McManus last week with disastrous consequences, started against Toronto Saturday.
Seven days did little to improve Dicken's skills.
On his second snap against the Argonauts, Dicken coughed up the football. Fred Perry recovered for Toronto, and ran the ball four short yards into the end zone.
Less than four minutes later, Dicken was picked off by Vernon Mitchell , who returned the ball 22 yards for Toronto's second touchdown of the game. It was the first of two interceptions Mitchell would return for majors on the day.
Dicken fumbled again on Hamilton's fifth possession, prompting coach Ron Lancaster to pull Dicken in favour of Todd Bankhead.
New quarterback, same result.
On his second series, Bankhead threw into the arms of Toronto rookie Donnavan Carter. Carter returned the ball 28 yards, then lateraled to Mitchell who completed the fnal six yards to the end zone. Toronto built a 21-2 lead in the first quarter, and that was more than the Argos would need on Saturday.
"It was a rough day, from the first snap to the last," said Bankhead. "It's going to be a long week of studying film."
Hamilton did show signs of life in the second half. After Gerald Vaughn blocked his third punt in four games, Bankhead connected with Andrew Grigg on a 14-touchdown play at 8:52 of the third quarter.
The score cut Toronto's lead to 22-12. But any hopes the Tiger-Cats had of clawing back into the game were snuffed out in the fourth quarter by more aggressive Agro defence.
With just over five-and-a-half minutes left in the game, Mitchell intercepted Bankhead and returned the ball 23 yards into the end zone to increase Toronto's lead to 29-12.
"I've never had three touchdowns in a game. Never," said the rookie defensive back. "It hasn't hit me yet but it is a wonderful thing.
"I was just in a comfort zone."
Lancaster was livid over the performance of his quarterbacks.
"We had no points, we don't have a quarterback. Nothing," Lancaster said bitterly. "We can't call the game off just because Danny can't play. The rest of the team has to come through."
While Clemons acknowledged Hamilton was weakened without McManus, the Argos coach said credit for the win should go to Toronto's defence.
"Obviously he (McManus) is a great quarterback and they really missed him," Clemons said. "Having said that, though, our guys still went out and made plays and did what they had to do.
"They didn't sit back and say, `Danny isn't playing so our offence will eventually score enough points to win.' The defence went out and scored all the points and said, `We'll win that way.' "
With its defence so dominant, Toronto's offence barely needed to show up Saturday. And it barely did.
Kerwin Bell could only lead Toronto to one point through three-plus quarters. After Toronto had put the game away in the fourth, Jimmy Kemp replaced Bell. Bell completed 13 of his 24 pass attempts for 117 yards and one interception.
"Ineffectiveness is definitely a problem," said Clemons. "We have concerns."