TORONTO — McLeod Bethel-Thompson staggered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before Jamal Peters delivered the knockout blow.
Bethel-Thompson threw three touchdown passes while Peters returned one of his three interceptions 67 yards for a major to lead the Toronto Argonauts past Hamilton 37-20 on a breezy Friday night. Two of Bethel-Thompson's TD strikes came in the decisive third quarter as Toronto outscored the Ticats 17-3 with the wind to take a 27-19 advantage.
Peters cemented the CFL victory, returning his final interception 67 yards for the touchdown 2:09 into the fourth. That put Toronto ahead 34-19 as the Argos outscored Hamilton 27-4 in the second half.
"We knew what was at stake with this game," Bethel-Thompson said. "It was a huge game for our season.
"Coming off of last week I had a really sick taste in my mouth. The way we came out at halftime, that's the team we can be. Unfortunately, it's the same thing: Can we do that for 60 minutes? If we can, it's going to be fun to watch. We can be that team, we can be that team for sure."
Last week, Calgary's Elie Bouka returned a Bethel-Thompson interception 62 yards for a touchdown that helped rally the Stampeders past Toronto 22-19 at BMO Field.
Bethel-Thompson finished 19-of-32 passing for 258 yards with an interception as Toronto (5-5) moved atop the East Division with its second win in three contests against third-place Hamilton (3-8). The teams meet for the final time in the regular season on Labour Day at Tim Hortons Field.
"It was a great team win but we've got to go do it again," said Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. "We're walking into a brawl next week in their place.
"They play better at home, it's a great crowd environment and we're going to have to beat them in their backyard if we want to be where we want to go."
Dinwiddie also tipped his cap to his starter.
"McLeod battled back in that second half," Dinwiddie said. "I felt like he had some added pressure this week … he dug in there and had a great performance."
It was a rough return for Hamilton starter Dane Evans. After missing two games with a shoulder ailment, Evans completed 19-of-30 passes for 244 yards with three interceptions and a lost fumble. Backup Matt Shiltz was 13-of-15 passing for 144 yards and a touchdown for Hamilton.
Hamilton held a decided statistical edge, accumulating 452 offensive yards and holding the ball for more than 38 minutes. But Toronto's defence forced six turnovers (three interceptions, fumble, twice on downs) and recorded three picks for the second straight contest.
"When we can get turnovers on defence, our offence feeds of it as well," Dinwiddie said. "That was a great performance by our defence, they did a heck of a job."
And Peters, in his second CFL season, couldn't help but think Hamilton was trying to centre him out.
"It shocked me that I got three picks," he said. "I've never had three picks except in backyard football so they went out of their way, for sure.
"For sure, I wanted to prove something. I'm underrated, I've been underrated all of my life so every game I'm trying to set the tone and let teams know who I am, let the CFL know who I am, for sure."
Kurleigh Gittens Jr., DaVaris Daniels and Markeith Ambles scored Toronto's other touchdowns. Boris Bede kicked four converts and three field goals.
Lemar Durant had Hamilton's touchdown. Seth Small booted four field goals, a convert and single.
Bethel-Thompson put Toronto ahead 27-19 with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Ambles at 14:23 of the third. That was set up by a Peters interception.
Bethel-Thompson hit Daniels with a 13-yard scoring pass at 9:56. Bede made a 56-yard field goal at 2:38 before Small countered with a 34-yard boot at 6:26.
Small hit a club record-tying 58-yard field goal with the wind on the final play of the first half to put Hamilton ahead 16-10. It came just 23 seconds after Bethel-Thompson found Gittens Jr. on a two-yard TD pass.
Hamilton was full value for the advantage, outscoring Toronto 13-3 with the wind in the second. The Ticats dominated the opening half, holding the ball for 19 minutes 48 seconds and rolling up 236 offensive yards, compared to 104 for Toronto.
And Hamilton's offence got going with Shiltz, who replaced Evans in the second with the score tied 3-3.
Small connected on a 30-yard field goal at 13:43 to put Hamilton up 13-3. It came after Shiltz's 10-yard TD strike to Durant at 8:33.
Earlier in the quarter, Toronto's Eric Sutton was disqualified for rough play.
Toronto opened the game with the brisk wind but could only manage Bede's 48-yard field goal at 14:52 that tied the score 3-3. Hamilton opened scoring with Small's 33-yard field goal at 5:46, taking its opening possession 67 yards on eight plays into the wind.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press