SPORTS

Argos host rival Ticats in crucial East Division showdown for both teams

10/24/2014 02:06 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - For Scott Milanovich and the Toronto Argonauts, it's the most important game of the 2014 season.

The Argos (6-9) host their archrivals, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in a crucial contest Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre. The Ticats (7-8) would clinch the season series with a win and further enhance their chances of finishing first or second in the East and securing a home playoff game.

Toronto would claim the season series with a win and still control its ability to finish atop the East Division. The Argos would do so by finishing their regular season with victories over Hamilton, Montreal and Ottawa.

A loss wouldn't eliminate the Argos from playoff contention but they'd need help to get in.

"Right now we still control our own destiny," Milanovich said following Friday's walkthrough at Rogers Centre. "If we don't win this game, that's no longer the case.

"I know about the alternative but it's not even something we've addressed. As of right now we're focused on winning this game and going from there. We're not going to talk about that until we have to."

Hamilton head coach/GM Kent Austin said while the contest is important, he's been careful not to over-emphasize that.

"Our guys understand the importance of this game, they know what's at stake," he said. "Toronto does as well.

"We expect our guys to play well. They're pros, they need to be self-directed, self-motivated ... there's a value to finishing well."

Not that motivation should be a problem.

"Motivation for these games is the easiest it gets because it's real, they (players) know it's real and there's no faking it," Milanovich said. "It's usually like the Week 6 game before you're going on a bye where you're trying to find something to get them up for a game that maybe is a little bit harder to do.

"That won't be a problem (Saturday)."

The previous Toronto-Hamilton matchups this season have been very close affairs.

Hamilton nipped Toronto 13-12 on Sept. 1 in its first-ever game at Tim Hortons Field before the Argos erased a 17-point deficit by outscoring the Ticats 21-3 in the fourth quarter for an exciting 34-33 victory Oct. 10 at Rogers Centre. Ricky Ray threw a 69-yard TD strike to Chad Owens with under a minute remaining in the Argos' win.

Running back Nic Grigsby, who signed with Hamilton this week after being released by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, will play Saturday. Grigsby is tied for the CFL lead in touchdowns (nine) and is fourth overall in rushing (744 yards).

"He can run, he's a threat out of the backfield as a receiver, which is important in our offence, and I think he's a better blocker than his reputation was coming to us," Austin said. "I think the guy is a complete player but he's like everybody else, he has to seize this opportunity and play well.

"We need him to play at a high level."

Milanovich said Toronto's defence must account for Grigsby when he's on the field.

"I hope he's not too much of a factor but he is a dynamic football player," Milanovich said. "If he's playing a lot and getting touches in space our guys are going to have to do a great job of understanding where their help is ... and forcing him into gang tackling because he's a very difficult man to take down one-on-one in the open field."

Hamilton will be without defensive tackle Ted Laurent (personal commitment) and slotback Andy Fantuz (hamstring), who has a team-high 62 catches for 639 yards and three TDs.

"Andy has had, it seems like, big games against us the last two years," Milanovich said. "Hopefully he's doing OK but I'm not sorry he won't be dressing (Saturday).

"I've always respected Ted. If you single-block him and he chooses to just run through you he can really press your guards or centre back into your quarterback, which makes it difficult for a quarterback."

Fantuz has 48 catches for 547 yards and two TDs in Hamilton's last six games against Toronto. The Ticats are 2-6 overall without Fantuz in the lineup.

Toronto is without right tackle Chris Van Zeyl (thumb), defensive back Evan McCullough (unspecified), safety Matt Black (forearm) and defensive lineman Dexter Davis (foot), all of whom played in last weekend's 20-12 loss to Montreal. Running back Curtis Steele (ribs) is doubtful.

American Jarriel King replaces Van Zeyl, a native of Fonthill, Ont. But Van Zeyl's absence means a Canadian must start elsewhere and Toronto's depth chart listed Ivan Brown, a five-year veteran defensive lineman from Saskatchewan, and Thomas Miles, a rookie linebacker from Manitoba, as defensive starters.

"Jarriel will do the job and do it well," Milanovich said. "We do believe Chris is one of the best tackles in the league but he's become a leader and almost a calming influence.

"Losing him is a bit of a factor because it changes the ratio."

On Oct. 10, Hamilton's special teams were dominant with 226 total return yards. Former Argo Terrell Sinkfield had five kickoff returns for 148 yards and two punt returns for 62 yards, including one for 51 yards.

"It's been a point of emphasis," Milanovich said. "It's like a playoff game, right?

"After turnovers, it comes down to field position and those hidden yards. It's something we've concentrated on."

Notes: Toronto signed Black to a contract extension through the 2016 season Friday. He's in his sixth season with the Argos after being taken in the sixth round of the '08 CFL draft from Saginaw Valley State. The Toronto native was a member of the Argos' squad that won the 100th Grey Cup game in November 2012 at Rogers Centre.

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