Roy Finch staggered the Toronto Argonauts before Bo Levi Mitchell delivered the knockout blows.
Finch had a punt-return touchdown for the second straight game and Mitchell threw three TD strikes to lead the Calgary Stampeders past Toronto 41-24 on Thursday night before 11,616 spectators at BMO Field.
Finch’s electrifying 103-yard punt return TD at 2:29 of the second quarter put Calgary ahead 17-7 before Mitchell found DaVaris Daniels on a 44-yard scoring strike at 14:59. It capped a three-play, 75-yard drive that emphatically answered Lirim Hajrullahu’s 19-yard field goal at 14:21 that was set up by Troy Davis’s recovery of Jerome Messam’s fumble that put Toronto at the Calgary 12-yard line.
But Mitchell, who finished 19-of-24 passing for 246 yards, cemented the win with a nine-yard TD strike to Marquay McDaniel to open the second half and put Calgary comfortably ahead 34-10. Mitchell hit McDaniel on a 10-yard TD pass at 4:05 of the fourth to boost the Stampeders’ lead to 41-13.
“Shoot, I hope we can always be like that,” Mitchell said. “That’s how championship teams play and if we want to get to that point that’s how we have to play.”
Toronto linebacker Bear Woods fears Calgary’s late first-half TD is becoming a pattern for the Argos.
“Literally, a minute left and we’re giving up scores,” he said. “That’s happened in multiple games.
“We have to find a way where we close out the half, close out the fourth quarter.”
Calgary (5-1-1) moved atop the West Division ahead of the Edmonton Eskimos (5-0), who host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-5) on Saturday night. Finch had a 97-yard punt-return TD on Saturday in the Stampeders’ lopsided 60-1 home win over Hamilton.
“I’ve been on the other side of a return for a touchdown,” Finch said. “When that happens, your whole stomach and everything deflates and you’re like, ‘Shoot, we’re in a hole.’
“It was a close game at the time and I knew if I got a big play for my team it would deflate (Toronto) a lot emotionally. It’s hard to come back from that but that’s what you have to do when you’re a playmaker.”
It was sweet redemption for Finch, who fumbled a punt in the first quarter, setting up Ricky Ray’s 10-yard TD strike to S.J. Green that opened the scoring at 4:06.
“When you do something like that your confidence level has to be very high to bounce back and have a great game,” Finch said. “I’m just happy my teammates rallied around me and kept fighting for me because they know I’ll fight for them.”
Playing twice in five nights didn’t stop Calgary from earning its seventh straight win over Toronto and third consecutive victory overall. Mitchell also improved to 7-0 against the Argos and 48-8-2 overall as a CFL starter.
Calgary is 29-6-2 versus East teams since 2013. After scoring 101 points in their last two games, the Stampeders will have some time off, returning to action Aug. 18 versus the B.C. Lions.
“It was a big win for us, the last two actually,” said Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson. “You’ve got to stay in the area code of Edmonton, they’re playing well.
“I do feel like we’re in a good spot. Not exactly where we want to be but I think this is a great start to the season and hopefully we can build on it.”
Toronto (3-4) played its third game in 11 nights (1-2 over that stretch). Ray was 15-of-26 passing for 139 yards with a TD and interception before sustaining a shoulder injury in the second half.
Ray, who missed 15 games in 2015 recovering from shoulder surgery, spoke little about his injury but was hopeful it was only a bruise the result of being hit by a helmet. Ray failed to pass for 300-plus yards for the first time this season and fell to 2-5 in his seven Toronto starts versus Calgary.
The Argos remain atop the East Division thanks to being 3-0 within the conference. But they’re 0-4 against West Division teams and have just two wins in their last 13 contests versus Western clubs.
Fortunately for Toronto, its next two games are against the Montreal Alouettes. But that was of little solace to head coach Marc Trestman.
“We certainly didn’t play well in any phase,” said Trestman. “We know we have it in us but we certainly didn’t show it tonight.
Messam had Calgary’s other touchdown. Rene Paredes booted five converts and two field goals.
Cody Fajardo scored Toronto’s other TD. Anthony Coombs had a two-point convert while Hajrullahu kicked a convert and three field goals.