TORONTO — Benoit Marion and the Toronto Argonauts' punt-coverage team added to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats fourth-quarter woes Saturday night.
Marion returned a blocked punt 24 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to rally Toronto to a wild 34-20 home win over Hamilton. After Trevor Hoyte blocked Michael Domagala's punt, Marion picked up the loose ball and ran it in 2:37 into the fourth quarter to break a 17-17 tie.
Marion's TD came moments after Boris Bede's 44-yard field goal sailed wide, thanks to a bad snap, as the single tied the game at 1:14.
"We always talk about if we win the special-teams battle, for the most part, we have a good chance to win the football game," said Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. "It was a huge play.
"That was the best performance our special teams have had since I've been here. Our cover teams were excellent as well."
Dinwiddie said Mickey Donovan, Toronto's special-teams coordinator, approached him last week with a punt-block scheme he felt could be successful against Hamilton.
"Mickey felt good about it," Dinwiddie said. "We came close on the one before that," Dinwiddie said. "And then we had the awareness to go get the ball, scoop and score.
"I think there was probably six guys who could've scored on that play."
Seth Small's 17-yard field goal at 8:53 pulled Hamilton to within 24-20. It was aided by Hamilton's successful challenge of an incompletion that resulted in a 38-yard pass interference call on Toronto's Royce Metchie on Ticats' receiver Tim White.
However, Toronto countered with a 59-yard, eight-play march that Bede capped with an 18-yard field goal at 12:35. That delighted the BMO Field gathering of 11,623 on an evening where both Lady Gaga and Drake were also performing at Rogers Centre and Budweiser Stage, respectively.
Chris Edwards cemented the victory, returning a Dane Evans interception 40 yards for a touchdown at 13:12. Toronto linebacker Wynton McManis was stellar with 10 tackles and a forced fumble.
Evans was 28 of 42 passing for 302 yards with a TD and interception. Toronto starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson completed 17 of 27 attempts for 230 yards and a touchdown.
Bethel-Thompson said he could sense Toronto's special-teams units were poised to deliver a game-changing play.
"They were playing physical all night, you could feel it," he said. "When we kicked the ball off there were bodies flying down there and they were punishing the Ticats all night.
"That (blocked punt) was a culmination of an entire game of effort and it's beautiful when a lot of really hard-working guys come together and keep pushing the envelope and then it breaks through like that. A huge swing, a huge play. It was awesome."
Toronto (4-3) remained atop the East Division with the win. Hamilton (2-6) is tied for second with the Montreal Alouettes (2-6). The Argos erased a 14-6 halftime deficit by outscoring the Ticats 28-6 in the second half, including 18-3 in the fourth.
It marked the seventh time in eight games this season that Hamilton had been outscored in the second half. The Ticats have been outscored 154-58 in the second half this year and by a whopping 95-29 margin in the fourth quarter.
"In the defining moments, they made the plays," said Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
It was a slow start for Toronto's offence, which accumulated just 88 net first-half yards, compared to 219 for Hamilton.
"We've got to start faster, we all know that," Dinwiddie said. "We've got to go look at what we're doing schematically again.
"But the nice part is we make our halftime adjustments and we play well at the end. We've just got to play better in the first half."
Saturday's game was the first of four between the longtime rivals. They square off again in Hamilton on Friday night before the Ticats revisit the Argos on Aug. 26.
The four-game series culminates with the annual Labour Day showdown Sept. 5 at Tim Hortons Field.
"It's not great," Bethel-Thompson said of the four dates. "We're going to be so sick of playing each other by (third and fourth games) but right now it's just one at a time.
"It's another opponent five days away. It's going to be a chess match of how much do we change, now much do they change? It's going to be a physical game, they have championship DNA there, they're going to bring it and it's in their house. We've got to get our bodies right and prepare for war again."
Dinwiddie opted for a more philosophical approach.
"It's a big month for us but it started with this one," he said. "We can't just feel like we're going to walk into their stadium and get it done.
"It's a tough place to play, their fans are going to be rowdy like they always are. It's a great environment."
Cam Phillips scored Toronto's other touchdown while Andrew Harris had a two-point convert. Bede kicked three field goals and a convert with the remainder of the points coming on a safety.
Don Jackson had Hamilton's touchdown. Small booted four field goals and a convert while Domagala added a single.
Toronto pulled to within 17-16 after Domagala gave up a safety at 13:16 of the third. It came after Lawrence Woods III elected to return John Haggerty's booming 65-yard punt at the Hamilton goal line and was tackled after just a three-yard return.
Bethel-Thompson capped a three-play, 70-yard march by evading the sack and hitting Phillips on a 13-yard TD strike at 7:45. Then he found Harris on the two-point convert to cut Hamilton's lead to 17-14.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press