TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts' late-season push will largely be about team management for head coach Ryan Dinwiddie.
Toronto (11-1) hosts Hamilton (6-7) on Saturday night in the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the longtime CFL rivals. The Argos have clinched first in the East Division but the Tiger-Cats are battling the Montreal Alouettes (6-7) for second.
Toronto has also clinched the season series with Hamilton (3-0). But the challenge facing Dinwiddie now is ensuring the Argos maintain the competitive edge that's given them the CFL's best record, but not at the expense of losing key performers to injury.
So on Saturday, running backs A.J. Ouellette (healthy scratch) and Andrew Harris (six-game injured list, knee) and starting offensive lineman Isiah Cage (one-game injured list, hamstring) will sit out. Quarterback Chad Kelly will play, as will all of the defensive starters who were on the field for last week's 23-20 road win in Montreal that secured the Argos first in the East.
"It's a challenge," Dinwiddie said. "We want to keep the arrow going up, keep playing good football and building going into the playoffs and we've got six games to do it.
"We're going to rest some guys each week but just a handful. Chad will sit one, maybe two, but he might play a half and we treat it like a pre-season game where he puts his work in and then we see what our young quarterbacks have."
Dinwiddie said Toronto still has plenty to play for despite having cemented a berth in the East Division final.
"We want to win every game, we're competitive," he said. "The message I've got for the guys is let's go compete for 60 (minutes) and not let anybody come to our house and beat us.
"We're not taking our foot off the gas pedal. We still have a long way to go."
Running back Deonta McMahon, 23, will appear in his second game this season but first as a starter. The five-foot-nine, 185-pound Florida native ran for 2,155 yards and 21 touchdowns in 27 games over three seasons (2020-2022) at McNeese State.
McMahon ran twice for 30 yards last week versus Montreal.
"We wanted to get him on the field earlier," Dinwiddie said of McMahon. "Unfortunately when you have a Hall of Fame running back and a guy like A.J. in front of you, it's tough to get on the field.
"(McMahon) is going to be a special player, he's going to be here for a while . . . we feel like we're not going to miss a beat with him."
McMahon said his running style differs from both Ouellette and Harris. Those two are more power backs while McMahon utilizes his speed.
"I'm more of a scatback," he said. "I can definitely get gritty but I like my speed.
"I feel a guy like me coming in, it's definitely going to change the pace of the game."
Hamilton has won two straight, including a solid 29-23 home win last week versus Winnipeg, and three-of-four overall. In his last four starts, rookie QB Taylor Powell has completed 89-of-123 passes (72.4 per cent) for 1,080 yards with eight TDs and two interceptions.
The 24-year-old American was 20-of-26 passing for 236 yards with a TD and interception versus Winnipeg.
Powell, who played collegiately at Eastern Michigan, has a 3-4 record as a CFL starter, which includes two losses to Toronto. Overall, he has completed 158-of-225 passes (70.2 per cent) for 1,829 yards with nine TDs and five interceptions while rushing 25 times for 165 yards (6.6-yard average) and a touchdown.
Versus Toronto, Powell has completed 57-of-83 passes (68.7 per cent) for 578 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. He has also run nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown.
"Their record is what it is for a reason," Powell said of the Argos. "They're great up front, they've got a very good linebacking corps and they play very well in the back end.
"They're very well coached and know how to play what they play. They present a lot of problems and we definitely have our hands full."
But Powell does have some familiarity with Toronto's defence.
"I think it definitely helps," he said. "I think the more reps you get against a certain team and certain defence, the more you become familiar with them."
Hamilton linebacker Jameer Thurman agrees.
"They know who we are, we know who they are," he said. "It's all about execution at the end of the day.
"We have not executed to our standard each time we've gone against them and that's why the outcome has been what it's been. We're looking to change that."
Especially for a potential post-season rematch.
"We see this game as an opportunity to set the tone," Thurman said. "We're trying to make a push to the playoffs right now and this is a team we're looking forward to seeing in the playoffs as well.
"So we can set the tone right now and let them know what they're going to be in for."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press