HAMILTON — Rookie Jamie Newman will make his first CFL start on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' biggest stage.
Newman will be under centre when Hamilton hosts the archrival Toronto Argonauts in the annual Labour Day clash Monday at a sold-out Tim Hortons Field. The Ticats need a victory to not only keep pace in a very tight East Division but also try to salvage the season series.
"I'm very excited (but) honestly right now I just feel like I'm super locked in," a composed Newman said. "I'm in my zone trying to think about what I can do to help my team win.
"Of course, it's a big Labour Day game but I'll treat this like another game. Every game to me is a big game … the No. 1 thing is protect the ball and just be me. Play free, have fun."
Incumbent Dane Evans (shoulder) was listed as the No. 3 quarterback behind Newman and sophomore Jalen Morton. Hamilton (3-8) usually dresses two quarterbacks for each game and Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer wasn't optimistic about Evans's chances of seeing the field Monday.
"I wouldn't say there's a zero per cent chance but if (Evans) could really play, he'd be up," Steinauer said.
Toronto (5-5) has taken two of the three regular-season meetings this season, including a 37-20 decision at BMO Field on Aug. 26. Hamilton must beat the Argos by at least 25 points on Monday to clinch the season series and division tiebreaker.
Something that could work in Newman's favour is familiarity. Toronto and Hamilton will meet for the fourth time in five weeks.
"The thing about it is we've just got to go out and be us," Newman said. "Or course, it is about Toronto … but the main thing is to be the best version of ourselves."
Hamilton will have history on its side. Not only are the Ticats a stellar 36-13-1 against Toronto on Labour Day they're unbeaten (7-0) on Labour Day at Tim Hortons Field.
But Newman comes in having thrown two passes (both completions for four yards) in eight games. The six-foot-four, 230-pound Newman has rushed 10 times for 56 yards and three touchdowns.
Steinauer isn't concerned about the game becoming too big for Newman.
"I'd expect him to be all of the emotions you want to put in, nervous, excited, motivated, that's normal," he said. "Is it the most important position on the field in my opinion? Absolutely.
"Does he touch the ball on every play? Yes. Is the offence going to go as he goes? Absolutely. Those are known facts so let's not focus on that. Let's focus on the play call. The messaging is, 'Be yourself. You're not out there by yourself,' and we'll rally around him."
Toronto has dropped nine of the last 10 Labour Day contests in Hamilton, its last victory coming in 2012. The teams didn't play in 2013.
But Hamilton lost more than just the game to Toronto its last time out. Veteran backup Matthew Shiltz suffered a wrist injury in the contest and went on the six-game injured list.
Shiltz started Hamilton's 34-27 win over Toronto on Aug. 12 in place of the injured Evans. Shiltz completed 14-of-19 passes for 176 yards with a TD and interception.
Newman's two completions also came in the contest as he ran seven times for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Toronto is atop the East Division, two points ahead of the Montreal Alouettes (4-7, who lost 38-24 on Friday night to Ottawa). Hamilton and Ottawa (3-8) are tied for third.
Up next for Ottawa will be home games against Toronto on Sept, 10 and Sept. 24. And after hosting the Argos, Hamilton will be home to Winnipeg on Sept. 17 before visiting Montreal on Sept. 23.
Evans is 2-0 versus Toronto on Labour Day. But Argos defensive back Jamal Peterson intercepted Evans three times — returning one for a TD — in the last meeting between the two teams.
Evans also lost a fumble in that contest. He has thrown 13 interceptions this season and fumbled seven times, losing six _ all tops in the CFL.
But Evans has thrown for 690 yards and four TDs in his previous two Labour Day starts. He had a career-best 442 passing yards in the '19 contest, rallying the Ticats to a 38-27 victory.
Toronto starter McLeod Bethel Thompson is looking for his first Labour Day victory in his third attempt. Bethel-Thompson was 19-of-32 passing for 258 yards and three TDs last time out versus Hamilton.
Toronto receiver Brandon Banks will also make his first appearance as a Labour Day visitor to Tim Hortons Field. The nine-year CFL veteran is in his first campaign with the Argos after playing eight seasons with the Ticats.
Banks, the CFL's outstanding player in 2019, has 23 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns this season.
In 2022, the team that's played better in the second half has won games.
Toronto outscored Hamilton 28-6 and 27-4 after halftime in its victories while the Ticats held a 20-6 second-half scoring advantage when they emerged victorious 34-27 on Aug. 12.
The team that's won the fourth quarter has claimed 17 of the last 19 Labour Day. Last year, though, the Argos outscored the Ticats 15-7 in the final quarter but still dropped a 32-19 decision.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press