THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO -- Henry Burris threw three touchdown passes to rally the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a wild 36-24 win over the Toronto Argonauts in the East Division final Sunday afternoon.
Burris cut Toronto's half-time lead to 24-17 with a late TD strike, then led Hamilton to a 27-24 advantage heading into the fourth. After watching Argos star quarterback Ricky Ray tear it up in the first half, Burris outduelled Ray in the second to lead Hamilton to its stirring victory.
Burris drove Hamilton to set up Luca Congi's 23-yard field goal to go ahead 27-24 entering the fourth. Burris's 14-yard TD strike to Greg Ellingston capped a 68-yard march to open the second half that made it 24-24.
Burris was especially cool when Hamilton took the ball at its own 38 with 6:55 remaining. He marched the Ticats to the Toronto 14-yard line -- including hitting Bakari Grant with a key 25-yard completion on second-and-19 -- to set up Congi's 20-yard field goal to make it 30-24 with 1:14 remaining.
Toronto took over at its own 35 and Ray took the Argos to the Hamilton 44 before the hosts turned the ball over on downs with 53 seconds remaining. Marc Beswick rounded the scoring by recovering Chad Owens' punt return fumble in the end zone on the game's final play.
Hamilton advances to the Grey Cup game next Sunday in Regina against either the Calgary Stampeders or Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Ticats haven't won the CFL title since '99.
Burris's heroics came before a raucous Rogers Centre gathering of 35,418 -- that included embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford -- for the first East final between the longtime rivals since '86. That's the largest attendance in the facility for a CFL game since more than 50,000 watched the Argos beat Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup game last November.
Much like Toronto's historic Grey Cup win, the atmosphere inside Rogers Centre on Sunday was electric -- and loud as fans didn't waste anytime getting into it well before the opening kickoff as horns blared loudly. Ticats supporters, who clearly outnumbered their Toronto counterparts, chanted their traditional "Argos Suck" refrain while the Double Blue faithful countered by yelling "Let's Go Argos."
Hamilton will head into the Grey Cup game on a roll, having won 11 of its last 15 games. The Ticats also continued Toronto's home woes as the defending Grey Cup champions were 4-5 at Rogers Centre during the regular season, the first time in CFL history a team had finished first in a division with a losing home record.
Spencer Watt, with two, and Zach Collaros had the touchdowns for Toronto. Swayze Waters had a field goal and three converts.
Andy Fantuz had Hamilton's other two TDs. Congi booted two field goals and three converts.
Burris's four-yard TD strike to Fantuz cut Toronto's half-time advantage to 24-17 but Ray was the story. The 11-year veteran was sensational, completing 17-of-20 passes for 279 yards and the two touchdowns as Toronto ran just four times for seven yards.
Burris was 10-of-19 passing for 144 yards with two TDs and an interception as Hamilton rolled up 176 nets yards.
Ray's 59-yard completion to Andre Durie put Toronto at the Hamilton one-yard line, where Collaros punched it in at 8:05 of the second to put Toronto ahead 21-10. Ray then drove the Argos to the Hamilton 21-yard line before settling for Waters' 28-yard field goal at 12:20 for the 24-10 advantage.
The contest began inauspiciously for Durie, who fumbled the opening kickoff and it was recovered by Hamilton's Frederic Plesius at the Argos' 35-yard line, setting up Congi's 16-yard field goal just 3:24 in. Ray countered with an eight-yard TD strike to Watt at 6:50 but Burris found Fantuz with a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the visitors ahead 10-7 with 49 seconds left in the first.
Ray found Watt on a 30-yard TD strike at 1:36 of the second.
NOTES -- Rookie defensive back Delvin Breaux, receiver Onrea Jones and running back Chevon Walker were among Hamilton's pre-game scratches. One of Toronto's scratches was receiver Romby Bryant . . . Hamilton coach/GM Kent Austin has enjoyed playoff success at Rogers Centre before, leading the Saskatchewan Roughriders past Hamilton 43-40 as their starting quarterback in '89 before hoisting the Grey Cup in victory as the Riders' head coach in '07 . . . . This marked the first time ever Burris and Ray had gone head-to-head in a division final . . . Linebacker Brandon Isaac and defensive back Evan McCollough were members of Toronto's Grey Cup-winning squad last year.