It was as if the Argos played two games at BMO Field Thursday night.
The first: a troubled first half riddled with turnovers and ineffectiveness.
The second? Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, making his first start of the season, led an improbable, almost impossible comeback, capping it with his fourth touchdown pass of the second half — a 23-yarder to Armanti Edwards — with one second remaining in the game.
And the Argos, who trailed 28-7 at the half, came all the way back for a 42-41 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.
Talk about a massive swing: Bethel-Thompson couldn’t get much going in the first half, completing seven of 12 passes for 69 yards. Then he went 18-of-25 for 233 yards and the four scores.
“It was a lot of fun,” Bethel-Thompson said in a jubilant Argos dressing room. “I want to thank my teammates, they carried me along all night. It takes 12 players (on offence) and I’m only one-twelfth of it. And sometimes, I was doing half of my one-twelfth.”
Bethel-Thompson also connected with S.J. Green for touchdown passes of five and 11 yards, and with James Wilder Jr. from 20 yards out.
“He found a way to make plays,” Argos head coach Marc Trestman said. “We won’t anoint ourselves with this win, but we gave ourselves an opportunity to find out more about ourselves. I’m very proud of the players and the coaches, they ground it out and found a way to win.”
Toronto, now 2-5, erased a first half in which the Argos committed four turnovers, a carry-over from their last game against Winnipeg, when they coughed up the ball seven times.
The Argos needed this win, they had talked about it as a must-win game, even if it was the first week of August. It was a game in front of a home crowd (11,857) and a chance to wipe off some of the sludge from what had been a slow start to the season.
It doesn’t seem so heavy now as the Argos enter a bye week.
This was also Toronto’s first game against an East opponent this season. When their schedule resumes in two weeks, they play British Columbia, then three straight games against East opponents.
Bethel-Thompson, who turns 30 Friday, took over the quarterbacking duties after James Franklin went 1-3 as a starter. The new No. 1 appeared to be just another part of the Argos’ hot-and-cold offence early. They held the ball for just 12 minutes in the first half and the longest of Bethel-Thompson’s completions was for 16 yards. The Toronto offence logged two fumbles, one interception, a turnover on downs, and four punts in the opening 30 minutes.
Bethel-Thompson was markedly better in the second half, as was the Argos offence.
“I stopped shooting myself in the foot … they were self inflicted wounds,” Bethel-Thompson said.
“I definitely didn’t play my best in the first half. But there was no give-up (in the halftime dressing room), no one even blinked, the players or the coaches. We have a fantastic group here.”
Martese Jackson had punt returns of 48 and 70 yards for the Argos, but he also fumbled on the Toronto five-yard line in the first half. The ball bounced into the end zone, where Ottawa’s Anthony Cioffi recovered it for a touchdown.
It was just one many early errors. A pass interference penalty on Toronto’s Adbul Kenneh gave Ottawa a first-and-goal from the one-yard line. Backup quarterback Dominque Davis took a plunge for the touchdown.
And a Wilder fumble led to a 17-yard touchdown pass from Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris to Diontae Spencer. Wilder finished with 59 yards on 14 carries and 42 yards on four catches.
Harris, a former Argo, had 27 completions on 35 attempts for an impressive 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And Spencer had a tremendous game, hauling in eight passes for 145 yards. He also had what seemed like a dagger for the Argos — an 88 yard punt return for a touchdown with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter that gave Ottawa a 38-14 lead at the time.
Toronto, though, was just getting started.
The Redblacks helped them, taking 12 penalties to the Argos’ five and backing off defensively with such a large lead. And the crowd played a role too.
“The fans helped us out,” Argos linebacker Marcus Ball said. “The guys on the other team weren’t getting their plays called, and we could see that. The fans really helped us out a lot.”