One thing was very clear walking into the Rogers Centre for the East Final between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats: It was going to be loud.
Tiger-Cats fans packed the stadium and made their presence felt right away. It got even louder when Andre Durie caught the opening kickoff, faked an end around to Chad Owens, stopped, turned around and fumbled the ball. The Tiger-Cats recovered it and the crowd erupted.
Perhaps the Hamilton fans were feeling a little displaced while waiting for their permanent stadium to be built and made the trip to cheer on their team. Or, perhaps more likely, they just really like the Tiger-Cats. But either way, they showed up and made an impact.
The only problem for the Tiger-Cats and their fans was that the Toronto Argonauts came to play. After falling behind 3-0, the Argonauts capped a 64-yard opening drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Watt, his first of two major catches on the day.
The shootout continued as the teams took full advantage of the Rogers Centre dome being closed and took to the air. At halftime, Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray had completed 17 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. His counterpart, Henry Burris, had 144 yards and two scores as well.
But the game was a tale of two halves on Sunday. In the first half, the Argonauts consistently made big plays, their defense supported their offense and they found themselves up 24-17 at the break.
But then came the second half. And those screaming Tiger-Cats fans that were temporarily silenced had reason to cheer.
The Cats started the third quarter with a 68-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 24 and never looked back. Their defense was able to apply consistent pressure to Ray and hold the Argonauts to just two first downs in the entire second half.
The Tiger-Cats offense also improved and was able to consistently get open on short passing routes and effectively run the clock down late in the fourth quarter.
It felt like a home game for the visiting Tiger-Cats, who were aided by a very loud fanbase late in the fourth quarter. The noise certainly played a factor, as the Argonauts offense was unable to get in rhythm.
Among Hamilton's leaders was quarterback Henry Burris, who finished the game with 371 yards through the air and three touchdowns. Andy Fantuz had a great second half and finished with 11 catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
With the win, the Tiger-Cats secured their place in the 101st Grey Cup in Regina.
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