Argos hold on for wild home victory over Bombers

In Ricky Ray’s math, two trumps 60,098.

Ray threw for 423 yards and a TD to become just the fourth player in CFL history to surpass 60,000 career passing yards. But the 15-year veteran was happier celebrating the Toronto Argonauts’ wild 29-28 home victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday night.

“The win feels so much better than the 60,000,” Ray said. “That’s something I’ll look back on when I am done playing and truly appreciate.

“I’m just in the moment tonight. What a win for this team to get back control and have a shot at first place.”

Toronto (8-9) moved atop the East Division, one point ahead of idle Ottawa (7-9-1). The Argos head into a bye week but can clinch first place if the Redblacks tie or lose to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night.

Ray, who finished 32-of-43 passing as Toronto rolled up 572 total offensive yards, will have no problem rooting for the arch-rival Ticats. The Argos earned their first win in three games following three-point losses to Saskatchewan and Edmonton.

“They’re one of our biggest rivals but we’ll definitely be rooting for them,” said Ray, who turns 38 on Sunday. “Hopefully they can do us a favour.

“But we must have the mindset that we have some unfinished business the rest of the season and keep this thing rolling.”

Cody Fajardo’s one-yard TD run with 1:57 remaining erased a 28-23 deficit but he was stopped on the attempted two-point convert. That left Toronto to protect a precarious one-point lead before an energetic BMO Field gathering of 15,532.

Winnipeg took over at its 22-yard line with 1:49 remaining and quarterback Matt Nichols drove the Bombers to the Toronto 32-yard line, setting up Justin Medlock’s game-winning 40-yard attempt. But Medlock’s boot was wide and Argos kicker Lirim Hajrullahu cemented the victory by kicking the ball out of bounds with no time remaining.

Medlock made just two-of-four field goals, also missing from 39 yards out. But Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea wasn’t blaming his kicker for the loss.

“The last kick in the game with no time on the clock is something everyone focuses on,” he said. “They don’t see the penalties that keep drives alive, the missed tackles, the dropped balls.

“We’ll never put it on the last kick.”

Toronto did show a flair for the dramatic, converting four-of-five gambles on third down. That included Ray’s six-yard TD strike to Declan Cross to put the Argos ahead 14-7 in the first.

“We’ve got to try to score touchdowns this time of year,” Toronto head coach Marc Trestman said. “Teams are too good, offences are too good, they come back.

“There has to be some kind of parameters set for doing that and I thought the parameters for going for it on third down, other than one yard, was field position that we could turn over to our defence and still feel like we were in a good position to play winning football.”

A blemish on Ray’s performance was surrendering an interception to former Argo defensive lineman Tristan Okpalaugo in the third that he returned to the Toronto one-yard line. That set up Dan LeFevour’s second one-yard TD run that put Winnipeg ahead 24-14 at 6:38 before Medlock boomed a single off the ensuing kickoff.

“I was just trying to throw it out there and I didn’t see (Okpalaugo) him at all,” Ray said. “He made a great catch and a great run . . . fortunately we were able to fight back and get the win.”

Toronto running back James Wilder Jr., chased Okpalaugo down on the interception in his first game since suffering a concussion two weeks ago against Saskatchewan. Wilder was a force offensively with 112 yards rushing and two TDs while adding seven catches for 85 yards.

DeVier Posey had five receptions for 128 yards.

Winnipeg (10-5) needed the win to secure its first home playoff game since 2011. The Bombers’ loss means Calgary (13-2-1) clinches first in the West Division.

Nichols finished 25-of-33 passing for 268 yards with a touchdown while veteran Weston Dressler, back from the injured list, had eight catches for 129 yards and a TD. Nichols felt Winnipeg was often forced to play catchup in the game.

“Every time we had the ball we were moving it and putting up points and answering scores,” he said. “We had the ball in our hands to win the game and didn’t do it.

“That’s the way it goes.”

Running back Andrew Harris, attempting to become the first player in CFL history to accumulate 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a season, ran for 32 yards while adding two catches for four yards.

That gives Harris 903 rushing yards and 820 yards receiving with two regular-season games remaining.

Hajrullahu finished with two converts and a field goal. Medlock booted three converts, a single and two field goals.