Taylor Powell was the definition of calm Thursday.
The rookie quarterback will make his first CFL start Friday night when Hamilton (2-3) hosts the archrival Toronto Argonauts (4-0). Following the Tiger-Cats walk-through, the 24-year-old Arkansas native gave no indication of having any pre-game jitters or that the moment was too big for him.
“I think I’m a pretty chill guy, kind of an outdoorsy guy who’s from Arkansas, likes to play football and loves this game,” he said. “I guess getting described like that comes from my faith and foundation of who I am.
“That’s taken time and you have to go through some stuff to develop a sense of character and faith. I’m super grateful for my journey and hopefully it’s just getting started.”
Powell played in Hamilton’s 39-27 road win last week in Edmonton, replacing injured starter Matt Shiltz late in the contest. Powell’s first CFL pass was a 17-yard touchdown strike to Tim White as he completed two-of-four passes for 47 yards.
Powell will become Hamilton’s third different starter this season. The Ticats have won two straight while Toronto is the CFL’s only unbeaten team.
The Argonauts are the defending Grey Cup champions
Toronto also began its Grey Cup defence with a 32-14 home victory over Hamilton on June 18. Powell is looking forward to not only facing the unbeaten Argos but playing in a rivalry game at Tim Hortons Field.
“I like to think I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m going to leave it all out there for my team, my coaches and most of all this city and organization.
“I’m just going to compete my butt off and have some fun, I’ll tell you that. I’m going to have a lot of fun playing.”
Powell played collegiately at Missouri, Troy and Eastern Michigan. In 2022 — his final season at EMU — he completed 174-of-269 passes (64.6 per cent) for 2,111 yards with 16 TDs and eight interceptions.
Former Elk Kai Locksley will be Powell’s backup ahead of veteran Antonio Pipkin, who signed with Hamilton this week.
Hamilton is 5-2 in its last seven home games against Toronto, but the Argos have won seven-of-eight overall matchups between the two.
“He seems extremely comfortable and so the only thing that’s really left is just the test, and that’s game day,” Hamilton head coach/GM Orlondo Steinauer said of Powell. “He’s not out there by himself, we’re a team.
“There’s a lot of other things that go into it, there’s a lot of things we can do to help support him and just let his talents take over. We just have to play a cleaner football game and ultimately find a way to come up with one more point.”
Veteran Canadian safety Tunde Adeleke returns for Hamilton but at halfback, leaving Stavros Katsantonis at safety. Veteran American defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis, who was with Toronto last year, won’t play for the Ticats.
Powell faces a Toronto defence that’s leading the CFL in turnovers forced (16) and interceptions (11). It’s also the league’s best against the run (65.3 yards per game).
“I think in the back end they play very well together and are always going to be in the right spot,” Powell said. “Their linebackers are super smart, very athletic and they’re going to get after you up front and stop the run.
“There’s a reason why they’re where they are so we have a great challenge ahead of us.”
Toronto leads the CFL in offensive points per game
Linebacker Adarius Pickett, who had 11 tackles in Toronto’s season opener, said the Argos’ defence isn’t taking anything for granted facing a rookie quarterback.
“There’s some talented football players in this league and you see it all the time where young players step up,” he said. “We have to be prepared for any and everything they might come at us with.
“We have to make sure we come out and play our game and execute. When we do that, it’s very hard to play with us.”
Tackle Isiah Cage (thigh) will miss a third straight game for Toronto. Defensive linemen Thomas Costigan (ankle), Shawn Oakman (not injury related) and Benoit Marion (thigh) along with Canadian offensive lineman Dylan Giffen are also out.
Still, Toronto leads the CFL in offensive points (34 per game), net offence (401 yards) and rushing (134 yards) while standing second in offensive TDs (15). The Argos are fourth in passing (275.5 yards per game) but tops in average gain per pass (10.9 yards) and passing efficiency (110.3).
Starter Chad Kelly was 21-of-25 passing for 351 yards with three TDs and an interceptions in last week’s 35-27 road win over Montreal. Conversely, Hamilton’s defence is ranked last overall in offensive points (28 per game) and touchdowns (15) allowed and second-last in net offence (381.8 yards), rushing yards (116.4 per game) and passing yards (289.6).
“They’re a resilient group,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of the Ticats. “They started slow then won the last two so they’re rolling again . . . I don’t think they’ll bat an eye.
“We’re coming into their building, their fans are going to be excited about it. I’m sure they will be and I’m sure we will as well.”