Mitchell Gale's one-yard TD run with just over five minutes remaining led Toronto to a thrilling 26-24 win over Hamilton on Saturday night. The Argos not only prevented the Ticats from clinching a playoff berth but also kept their hopes alive to finish atop the East Division.
But the victory didn't come easily. After surging into a 15-0 first-quarter lead, Toronto committed four turnovers and watched Hamilton go ahead before regaining the advantage on Gale's TD run. And when usually reliable kicker Swayze Waters missed a 31-yard field goal that went for a single at 14:39, the Ticats had plenty of time to march 35 yards and give kicker Justin Medlock a makeable game-winning boot.
However veteran linebacker James Yurichuk, a native of Brampton, Ont., sent the Rogers Centre gathering of 19,258 home happy by sacking Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros on the final play.
"I've learned in the CFL it's never over . . . it's what makes this game so unique and fun but when you're hanging on by a thread to the lead it's not much fun," Milanovich said. "I was relieved to get out of here with a win.
"We did what we came to do, we got a win . . . at this point in the season it's all we can ask for. I know I say it all the time, there's a lot of things we've got to clean up but we're one game away (from clinching playoff berth) and we'll take that."
But it was a dream ending for Yurichuk, a special-teams player who signed a contract extension earlier in the week, then drew the start Saturday.
"I think I blacked out for a second there," he said. "I've never really finished a game like that in the CFL.
"I just was thinking what a great week it was. We got the win, I got to re-sign this week and my family was here . . . it was one of those unbelievable moments."
Gale's TD at 9:43 of the fourth put Toronto ahead 25-21 after Hamilton stopped Steve Slaton short on third-and-goal but was flagged for being offside. That gave the Argos a fresh set of downs as Gale's TD came after Waters connected from 29 yards out at 3:14.
"We stopped them on third-and-goal and then line up offside on defence, that's inexcuseable," said Ticats head coach/GM Kent Austin. "We just let them have too many big plays and coming in we knew we couldn't do that."
Hamilton pulled to within 25-24 with Medlock's 45-yard field goal at 12:29. Ricky Ray promptly marched the Argos from their 35 to the Ticats' 24 before Waters missed. Ray finished 24-of-36 passing for 323 yards with a TD and interception.
Toronto won the season series 2-1, which is the tie-breaker if the two teams finish with identical records. Hamilton won the first meeting 13-12 on Sept. 1 at Tim Hortons Field, then two weeks ago the Argos rallied from a 17-point deficit route for a 34-33 victory.
Toronto (7-9) moved into a second-place tie with Hamilton (7-9) in the East, two points behind the Montreal Alouettes (8-8). The Argos finish their season visiting the Als next weekend before hosting Ottawa and can clinch first in the division by winning both.
Toronto can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Montreal. Hamilton must beat Ottawa and then the Als on the final weekend of the season to reach the post-season.
"We had to win this game so nothing has changed," Collaros said. "Every week has been a playoff week since Labour Day.
"We have to improve to the best of our ability and win two."
Two weeks ago, Hamilton's special-teams registered 226 total return yards. On Saturday, the Ticats had just 69 return yards while Toronto amassed 171 return yards and Waters averaged 51.8 yards per punt.
"We got killed on field position, absolutely killed," Austin said. "Every exchange on punts and kickoffs, that was a big problem for us."
Slaton was terrific for Toronto, rushing for 80 yards on 16 carries and adding five receptions for 77 yards and a TD. The Argos ran for 115 yards, the first team in six games to rush over 60 yards against Hamilton's defence.
"Slaton played great," Ray said. "He turned a lot of not very good plays into good plays and it's huge when their defence has to worry about a guy like that."
Collaros, who was 24-of-36 passing for 335 yards and three TDs, put Hamilton ahead 21-15 at 13:08 of the third. He capped a brilliant 109-yard, 10-play drive with a 27-yard scoring strike to Brandon Banks, whose miscue on a punt return had put the Ticats on their one-yard line.
Collaros found Sam Giguere on a 43-yard TD strike at 4:49 of the third to pull Hamilton to within 15-14 following an 80-yard, five-play drive. Sophomore Luke Tasker was also huge for Hamilton with nine catches for 138 yards and a TD.
Waters kicked two converts, three field goals and a single. The other points came on a safety just 1:16 into the contest.
Medlock had three converts and a field goal.
NOTES — There was a moment of silence before the opening kickoff to honour the memory of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who died in separate incidents this past week . . . Running back Curtis Steele and linebacker Greg Jones didn't dress for Toronto while Hamilton's scratches were defensive back Emanuel Jones and offensive lineman Jeremy Lewis. Jones had 12 tackles for Toronto last weekend against Montreal . . . . The Ticats have used 54 different players in their starting lineup this season. That includes 12 different starters on both the offensive and defensive lines . . . Ray made his 188th career start and 16th straight for Toronto while Collaros started just 18th CFL game . . . Hamilton cornerback Delvin Breaux turned 25 on Saturday.