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Brandon Banks scores two fourth-quarter touchdowns in Labour Day return to Hamilton

HAMILTON — Brandon Banks is still unbeaten on Labour Day. Banks scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Toronto Argonauts past the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-8 on a misty Monday afternoon.
Toronto Argonauts wide receiver Markeith Ambles (17) does a flip in the air as he crosses into the end zone for a touchdown during first quarter CFL football game action against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in Hamilton, Ont. on Monday, September 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

HAMILTON — Brandon Banks is still unbeaten on Labour Day.

Banks scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Toronto Argonauts past the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-8 on a misty Monday afternoon. Banks improved to 8-0 in the annual Labour Day showdown between the two long-time rivals.

Banks' first seven wins came with Hamilton, where he spent his first eight CFL seasons (2013-2021). The two teams didn't play in either 2013 or '20.

But Banks, the CFL's outstanding player in 2019, and Hamilton mutually agreed to part ways after the '21 season. That allowed the five-foot-seven, 150-pound dynamo to sign with Toronto as a free agent.

"I didn't know that," Banks said. "Undefeated on Labour Day, that's bragging rights.

"It just sends a message to them I can still play. I knew I could play but it just lets them know I still can. All of the doubters anyway."

Banks capped a double-reverse at 3:33 of the fourth to score on a four-yard run, effectively silencing the Tim Hortons Field gathering of 25,266, a record for a Ticats game at the venue. It came after Toronto linebacker Henoc Muamba stopped quarterback Jalen Morton short on a third-down gamble at Hamilton's 27-yard line.

Banks was actually supposed to throw a pass to Toronto quarterback McLeod-Bethel Thompson on the play, the Argos' version of the Philly Special. In Super Bowl LII, Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton lofted a TD pass to quarterback Nick Foles in the Eagles' 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots.

The play Monday began with Bethel-Thompson handing off to receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr., who handed off to Banks. The 34-year-old did throw a 49-yard TD pass in 2001 with the NFL's Washington Commanders against New England. 

"I saw Mac not open," Banks said with a chuckle. "He was supposed to get open so I could have a touchdown completion.

"But I saw Mac pretty much turn around and block for me so that means run the ball. I found a lane and was able to score."

It's something Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer saw often when Banks was with the Ticats.

"Brandon is a special play-making guy who made plays," Steinauer said. "We had him in the backfield there on the reverse, and we've all seen that before.”

Bethel-Thompson hit Banks on a 27-yard TD strike at 7:55 to put Toronto ahead 25-8. It came right after Jamal Peters' second interception of the game and fifth in two contests versus Hamilton. He had three picks, returning one for a score, in the Argos' 37-20 home win Aug. 26.

Banks had two catches for 80 yards with his 12-year-old son, Brandon Banks Jr., in attendance. Banks' son lives in New York City with his mother.

"I believe that's the reason why I played the way I played," Banks said. "Having him with me this week obviously made me more comfortable and brought the good football out of me."

Toronto (6-5) earned its first Labour Day victory since 2012 and handed Hamilton its first Labour Day loss ever at Tim Hortons Field (7-1). The Argos also won the season series 3-1.

More importantly, Toronto moved four points ahead of second-place Montreal (4-7) in the East Division. Hamilton (3-9) remains tied with Ottawa (3-8).

It was another stellar performance by Toronto's defence, which forced four turnovers and held Hamilton's offence to 267 yards. But Dinwiddie said Muamba provided the Argos' biggest play of the game.

"One hundred per cent it was," he said. "That was pretty much it.

"If you look at the last three weeks, our defence has been pretty darn good. When they get turnovers we score more points. Our whole defensive unit is playing together and they're lights out."

Hamilton's offence was non-existent as its points came from Jumal Rolle's 86-yard pick-six and a punt single. With veteran Dane Evans (shoulder) out, rookie Jamie Newman was 14-of-25 passing for 172 yards and an interception in his first CFL start.

Morton was 2-of-6 passing for 13 yards and an interception.

Despite the one-sided result, Toronto's offence also had its issues. Punters Michael Domagala of Hamilton (10 for 473 yards) and the Argos' John Haggerty (nine for 479 yards) combined for 19 attempts for 952 yards.

"No wonder my leg hurts," said Haggerty.

"There were way too many punts," added Dinwiddie. "But our punter did a great job."

Bethel-Thompson earned his first career Labour Day victory on his third attempt. He finished 22-of-34 passing for 298 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Markeith Ambles had Toronto's other touchdown. Boris Bede booted two field goals, three converts and a single.

Seth Small kicked the convert while Domagala added a single.

Rolle provided the biggest play of the opening half to pull Hamilton into an 8-8 halftime tie. Bethel-Thompson's high pass to Damonte Coxie went off the Argo receiver's hands to Rolle, who scored at 3:44 of the second.

Toronto threatened to take the halftime advantage when Hamilton's Richard Leonard was flagged for interference on Gittens, giving the Argos possession at the Ticats 26-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. But Steinauer successfully challenged the call.

Domagala cut Toronto's lead to 7-1 with a 67-yard punt single at 9:10 of the first before Bede's missed 43-yard field goal at 13:51 gave the Argos an 8-1 advantage.

Bethel-Thompson found Ambles on a 26-yard TD strike to open the scoring at 5:12 It came a play after Bethel-Thompson hit a wide-open Banks on a 53-yard completion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept, 5, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press