Toronto Argonauts defensive tackle Davon Coleman (23) has a tight hold for a sack on Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans (9) during second half CFL football game action in Hamilton, Ont. on September 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts set to renew their Labour Day rivalry Monday

He’s in only his third CFL season but Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans understands fully the mystique that is Labour Day in the CFL.

Evans will make his second Labour Day start Monday when Hamilton (1-2) hosts the arch-rival Toronto Argonauts (2-1) at Tim Hortons Field. The contest will also be the Ticats’ home opener.

“It’s just crazy, that’s really the only way to describe it,” Evans said. “It’s loud on both sides, it’s physical, it’s fun, it’s everything you want in a football game.

“No matter where you’re from, wherever you grow up in the U.S. or Canada … you want the environment you get on Labour Day. It’s a big-time football game, it’s something we don’t take lightly.”

For many traditionalists, Labour Day is the unofficial start of the CFL season, a time when clubs begin making their final push to the playoffs. The games also involve some of the league’s biggest and most intense rivalries.

And what makes this contest more meaningful is there were no Labour Day games last year as the CFL didn’t play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league returned in 2021 but with a condensed 14-game schedule, four less than the norm.

Monday’s game will be the first of four this year between Hamilton and Toronto. The two teams will square off Friday at BMO Field, then meet again Oct. 11 at Tim Hortons Field.

The regular-season finale is slated for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

Evans will make his second straight Labour Day start. He threw for 442 yards and two TDs and ran for another in leading Hamilton to a 38-27 victory in 2019.

Evans guided Hamilton to a 27-10 road win over Montreal on Aug. 27, completing 15-of-22 passes for 183 yards and two TDs in his first start of the year.

Hamilton has won eight of the last nine Labour Day games versus Toronto, which last emerged victorious Sept. 2, 2012. The Ticats are 6-0 on Labour Day at Tim Hortons Field (they didn’t play in 2013).

Six of the last seven contests have been decided in the final three minutes but Evans said past encounters are meaningless.

“It doesn’t matter what the records are, it doesn’t matter who’s hot, who’s not,” he said. “It’s Labour Day, it’s a whole other ball game.

“We know we’re getting their best shot and you know we’re giving them our best shot.”

Toronto hasn’t played since beating Winnipeg 30-23 in its home opener Aug. 21. The Argos had their following game against Edmonton postponed after a number of Elks players had positive COVID-19 tests.

That contest will now be played Nov. 16.

Nick Arbuckle will make his second straight start for Toronto. He finished 23-of-32 passing for 310 yards and a TD while running for another against the Blue Bombers.

“”I think they’re experienced, they’re talented, they’re playing with belief (and) they’re playing hard,” Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said of Toronto’s offence. “We know it’s going to be a battle but we won’t focus a ton on them as much as we’re focused on ourselves and just consistent improvement.

“They’ve played some tough games right off the jump and handled themselves very well. Obviously we have a lot of respect for what they’re doing but again our focus will remain solely on ourselves.”

The Labour Day showdown will be the first for Ryan Dinwiddie as Toronto’s head coach. But before joining the Argos he served as a quarterback coach with the Calgary Stampeders (2016-19).

”I know it’s exciting for the fans and cities of Toronto and Hamilton but for me it’s just another football game,” Dinwiddie said. “We’ve got to get a win here.

“We’re 2-1 and if we stub our toe these next two games are going to put us behind Hamilton. We’ve got to be in the driver’s seat, we’ve got to do what we need to do this week.”

And for Dinwiddie, that means faring well in the four-game series against Hamilton.

“To be the best you’ve got to beat the best and Hamilton, I still feel, is the best team in the East,” he said. “We’ve got to go ahead and prove otherwise.”

Argos receiver DaVaris Daniels suffered a concussion against Winnipeg but will start Monday. Dinwiddie was hopeful defensive lineman Cordarro Law might be able to come off the six-game injured list and play but he wasn’t listed on Toronto’s depth chart for the contest.

But even without Law, Evans said Toronto’s defence will present plenty of challenges.

“They have a great defence, they have a good scheme they run on defence,” he said. “Their front seven is as good as anyone I’ve seen, their back end is just as good as their front seven.

“They’re a solid team all the way around.”

Veteran Dave Watford will back up Evans while defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis and Dylan Wynne both return to the Ticats’ lineup.