Ricky Ray and the Toronto Argonauts’ offence made good on their second chance Monday night.
Lirim Hajrullahu’s 34-yard field goal as time expired earned Toronto a wild 27-24 home win over the Ottawa Redblacks. Hajrullahu capped a nine-play, 51-yard drive after the Redblacks made it 24-24 on Trevor Harris’s 31-yard TD strike to Greg Ellingson with 2:17 remaining.
Harris’s TD pass came after Toronto’s Cody Fajardo was stopped on a third-down gamble before a season-high BMO Field gathering of 15,801.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get that third-down conversion but we got another chance,” said Ray. “That’s all you ask for, to be able to have the ball in your hands and have a chance to go down the field and try to get points.”
Ray snapped a 17-17 tie with a nine-yard TD strike to Anthony Coombs at 6:56 of the fourth that was set up by Marcus Ball’s interception. Ray finished 40-of-55 passing for 367 yards and two touchdowns, his fifth straight 300-yard game.
But the win was a costly one as Toronto (3-2) played the second half without linebacker Bear Woods and defensive linemen Victor Butler and Cleyong Laing. Butler suffered an apparent knee injury while Woods reportedly underwent concussion protocol and Laing left the field on a cart with a left leg injury.
And that’s a concern as Toronto begins a stretch of four games in 19 days. The Argos visit the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday night.
Toronto head coach Marc Trestman said he addressed the injury situation at halftime.
“We gave clarity to exactly what was going on in the game,” he said. “We had three starters down, that the guys who were next man up had to be ready to play.
“And on special teams and the offensive side of the ball we had to pick up and hold our end of the bargain and have the defence’s back. This was a team win . . . we found a way to win and that’s important.”
Ottawa (1-4-1) completed its third game in 11 nights and fourth in 18. But the defending Grey Cup champions showed tremendous grit, making it 17-17 on Josh Stangby’s 15-yard run and Mossis Madu’s two-point convert just 1:03 into the fourth.
“Every game we play this year literally comes down to the wire,” said Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell. “I think it’s unfair to make players play that many games in a row . . . but all we were thinking about was how to win this game.”
Harris finished 16-of-26 passing for 184 yards with two TDs and an interception. Ellingson, who came in as the CFL’s receiving leader, had three catches for 59 yards and the touchdown.
“I know how close we are,” Harris said. “It’s just one of those things that sucks when you lose.
“It’s frustrating, it’s deflating. I think a break will be awesome.”
Toronto accumulated 424 net offensive yards and had the ball for over 35 minutes. But Trestman said the unit hurt itself with untimely penalties and inconsistent play.
“We feel very good about the type of offence we can be, we just haven’t been that offence on a consistent basis,” Trestman said. “There’s a glimmer, there’s a window where we see if we take care of ourselves we have a chance to move the ball and convert and finish drives.
“It certainly helped putting the ball in Ricky’s hands in the last two minutes.”
The season-high gathering came on a night when the Argos offered a promotion of two tickets for $19.97 in commemoration of their 1996-97 Grey Cup-winning teams. Before the contest, the franchise added former quarterback Doug Flutie to its all-time squad.
Flutie played his final two CFL seasons in Toronto, leading the franchise to consecutive Grey Cups in 1996-97 before joining the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Flutie topped the list of former Argos attending the game while receiver Brandon Marshall of the NFL’s New York Giants and Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard were also present.
“I thought our crowd made a difference,” said Trestman. “I think it meant a lot to the guys.”
Trestman also caught up with Marshall, who played for Trestman when he was the Chicago Bears’ head coach (2013-14).
“He’s one of the players I’ve respected and had a chance to work with over the years,” Trestman said. “I love the player he is and the person he is.”
Declan Cross had a touchdown for Toronto. Hajrullahu booted two converts, two singles and three field goals. The other points came on a safety.
Brad Sinopoli had a touchdown and two-point convert for Ottawa. Brett Maher added a single and convert.
Harris hit Sinopoli on a four-yard TD strike, then for the two-point convert to pull Ottawa to within 12-9 with 50 seconds left in the opening half. Harris fumbled on the half’s final play and was slow to get up with an apparent eye injury while Laing was injured while recovering the loose ball.
Both Butler and Woods were hurt earlier in the second and on the bench when Sinopoli registered his scoring grabs.