MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - For Steven Jyles and the Toronto Argonauts, their game Saturday night against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is for much more than just bragging rights.
A win would move Toronto (3-9) to within four points of third-place Hamilton (6-6) in the East Division with another head-to-head matchup remaining. Conversely, a loss would drop the Argos eight points behind the Ticats and all but squash their playoff aspirations.
Both teams would still have five regular-season games remaining, leaving the Argos still mathematically in playoff contention even with a loss. But they wouldn't control their own destiny and need not only to win out but also have Hamilton lose all of its contests to make the East Division playoffs.
A loss Saturday would also drastically damage the Argos' already precarious crossover chances.
"This is a must-win for us to stay in the hunt," Jyles said. "We have to win, we can't fall behind another game to anyone."
The two teams come in on winning notes. Toronto edged Winnipeg 25-24 at Rogers Centre while Hamilton dispatched Calgary 55-36 in Moncton, N.B. But Jyles wasn't especially happy about his performance against the Bombers, completing 11-of-20 passes for 88 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
"We knew we had to take Winnipeg's front out of the game because they're great pass rushers and we knew if we tried to drop back 30 times they were going to be successful getting to the quarterback," Jyles said. "But overall having just 80-some passing yards is an insult.
"I took that seriously because you come off the bench and throw for more than 80-some yards. For me to play four quarters and have only 80-some yards passing, that had me very upset."
Saturday's game is also a significant one for Hamilton, which enters weekend action just four points behind first-place Winnipeg (8-4) and two behind Grey Cup-champion Montreal (7-5). With a win, the Ticats would not only clinch the season series with Toronto but also keep within striking distance of the Bombers and Als.
And that's important, considering Hamilton's next two games after Toronto are against Winnipeg and Montreal.
Predictably, there's been no shortage of trash talk between the two rivals, although most has come from Toronto. Linebacker Erijo Kuale got the rhetoric going moments after the win over Winnipeg by guaranteeing a victory over Hamilton.
Toronto tailback Cory Boyd threw more gas on the fire by suggesting he'll run for 200 yards against Hamilton.
"Players are going to say what players say," said Argos coach/GM Jim Barker. "When EJ guaranteed a win, it was no disrespect to Hamilton, he just believes in the guys around him and I don't have any problem with that.
"I know what kind of game we have to play and I know our guys understand the importance of it. All the trash talk is great for you guys (media) but I don't believe it carries one ounce with players because they trash-talk to each other all the time anyway on this twitter stuff."
The Argos' bold statements, indeed, have beaded off the Ticats' back like water on a duck.
"I think it brings a lot of fun to the game," said Hamilton defensive end Stevie Baggs. "It gets you guys (media) all fired up and I think it gets the fans fired up.
"When the whistle blows you have to play football and I think the trash-talking and bulletin board material can be blown out of proportion."
Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille agreed.
"It's just noise," he said. "You have to acknowledge the noise, then you have to block it out to be mentally tough.
"I really feel our team has re-focussed on us and what we need to do to be successful."
Both teams will make roster changes for the game, with Hamilton adding linebacker Ray Mariuz, defensive back Milt Collins and receiver Liam Mahoney. Toronto will add receivers Prechae Rodriguez, Djems Kouame and Sammy Tranks to the active roster as well as linebacker Jordan Younger.
Rodriguez will get the start in his Toronto debut. The 26-year-old was the CFL's top rookie in 2008 with Hamilton (70 catches, 1,099 yards, seven TDs) but has bounced between Saskatchewan, Montreal, Edmonton and now Toronto since then, registering 83 receptions, 969 yards and five TDs over that span.
"In Hamilton I was given a lot of opportunities that built my confidence as a rookie," Rodriguez said. "When I left I didn't get the same kind of vibe from the coaches that I did from Hamilton . . . You can't be the guy all the time because it is a team game but when the opportunity comes you have to take advantage of it.
"It (bouncing around) is very tough but you have to be mentally tough. I pray every night and ask God for strength to get me through this. Before success comes adversity and you can't be successful without failure so I feel like He's making all this happen for a reason and testing my faith. I really believe in that and this is my time."
A return to form by Rodriguez would certainly bolster Toronto's receiving corps as converted tailback Andre Durie (46 catches, 521 yards, two TDs) has been the club's leading pass catcher.
"We're looking for that go-to type guy, that guy who can make big plays for us," Barker said. "He was that back in 2008 with Hamilton . . . and we need to find that guy.
"When a guy wins rookie of the year and three years later can't get a job usually it's the result of he's lazy, he can't learn or he's not a great guy. I told him that and that he was going to have an opportunity to come in here with a clean slate. I think he understands this is his big opportunity, a chance to re-establish himself in this league as a premiere receiver."