Argos break Cow-Town Curse and 10 other thoughts on Toronto’s big win over Calgary

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts avenged their only loss of the season, defeating the Calgary Stampeders 39-31 in front of a season-high 17,906 fans at BMO Field on Friday night.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Bye Week Boost
The Toronto Argonauts are now 7-0 coming off a bye over the past two seasons, including playoffs. In a league where each team has three bye weeks per season, success following an extra week of preparation is a key that really separates the well-coached teams from the rest of the pack. During practice all week, head coach Ryan Dinwiddie’s group looked focused and rested, and the result was another win.

Cow-Town Curse
To say the Argonauts have struggled against Calgary in recent years is an understatement. Coming into this game, the Argos were 1-15 against the Stampeders over the past decade. On top of that, the Argonauts had lost every home game against Calgary during that span, including contests at Rogers Centre, Tim Horton’s Field, and, of course, BMO Field.

Can 361 yards and three touchdowns be an off day?
Chad Kelly’s 120.3 passer rating coming into this game led the CFL, and though his 109.7 performance against Calgary won’t change that, this didn’t look like a typical 2023 Chad Kelly outing.

Kelly had thrown only five interceptions on the season, yet threw two in the first half. The first came out of his hand awkwardly and sailed over Kurleigh Gittens Jr. into the arms of Nick Taylor in the endzone. The second can’t be pinned on Kelly as he was turned by Stampeders’ defensive end Julian Howsare as he released the ball and it flew directly to Kobe Williams.

Much like Zach Collaros the day before, great quarterbacks rebound from their mistakes, and Kelly put together an impressive game after an uncharacteristically slow start. Kelly now has wins over every CFL team except Winnipeg, who he’ll take on for the first time in his career at the end of September.

A trick up his sleeve
Head coach and offensive coordinator Ryan Dinwiddie isn’t typically one for trick plays, but it was a flea flicker in the third quarter of this game that put Toronto back on top to stay.

I’ve seen Toronto install trick plays at practice over the past few years that they never end up using and that’s the nature of trick plays. You have to run them in the perfect situation for them to be successful, and that situation may never arise. This flea flicker was installed this week, as far as I’m aware, probably with Calgary in mind as the potential victim.

Chad Kelly handed the ball to A.J. Ouellette, which drew in safety Branden Dozier, allowing DaVaris Daniels to cut in overtop on a post route for a 54-yard touchdown. Dinwiddie was visibly excited on the sideline after the momentum-swinging play, aggressively high-fiving Gregor MacKellar and Dewayne Hendrix.

Getting Gittens going
Kurleigh Gittens Jr. has gotten off to a slow start this season compared to his previous two campaigns, and it was clear his head coach wanted him involved in the game plan against Calgary.

KGJ was targeted a game-high seven times with four catches for 55 yards. He was used on jet sweeps and quick hitters in an attempt to get him in a rhythm. While this wasn’t exactly a breakout game for Kurleigh, he did surpass the 2,000-yard receiving mark for his career.

Long Bombs
DaVaris Daniels and Damonte Coxie came into this game first and third respectively in yards per catch this season among receivers with over 200 yards, with Winnipeg’s Kenny Lawler sandwiched between them. Coxie’s three catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, and Daniels’ three grabs for 77 yards and a touchdown will ensure the status quo is maintained. Coxie returned to the lineup after missing several weeks with an ankle injury.

Something special
Javon Leake extended his franchise-best single-season punt return touchdown record when he took a Cody Grace kick 84 yards to the house for his fourth such score of the year.

Leake already had the Toronto record at three, which is unbelievable considering the gifted returners like Bashir Levingston, Pinball Clemons, Rocket Ismail, Chad Owens, who have worn the double blue over the last 150 years. He now sits just a touchdown short of the CFL record with nine games to play in the season.

The Argos came into the game with a league-leading 4.7 non-offensive points per game, a number that will increase thanks to Leake. The Ottawa Redblacks are a distant second with 3.0 non-offensive points per game.

Trench Warfare
The Argos’ offensive line was able to keep Chad Kelly relatively clean, not allowing a sack against the league leaders in that category. The Argonauts have only given up 10 sacks all season, which leads the league by a wide margin. Meanwhile, their three sacks of Jake Maier, all of which were credited to Flo Orimolade, now puts them in a tie with Calgary for the top spot in that category despite having played two fewer games.

Three of Jake Maier’s four touchdown passes appeared to come against busts from the Toronto secondary, something they haven’t been prone to so far this season. Two of these plays came after Argos field halfback DaShaun Amos was knocked out of the game with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.

Amos was engaged in a block when he was rolled up on by teammates Wynton McManis and Robertson Daniel, who were in the midst of bringing down running back LaVante Bellamy. Amos began his CFL career in Calgary, and it was touching to see players, coaches, and staff from both teams surround Amos on one knee. If you couldn’t see Amos’ jersey, you wouldn’t have known which team the injured player played for.

Royce Metchie moved to the field halfback spot in Amos’ absence with Josh Hagerty taking over at safety for Metchie, but that’s where the communication issues began. Luther Hakunavanhu scored on an 18-yard touchdown when Qwan’tez Stiggers tried to pass the York product off to Metchie, who appeared to miss the call. Maier then hit Reggie Begelton on a 39-yard bomb that left Stiggers wondering where his help overtop had gone.

Things went from bad to worse when Hagerty appeared to injure his shoulder breaking up a would-be touchdown pass to Begelton. Jonathan Edouard came in at field halfback allowing Metchie to move back to the safety spot. A few plays later, however, things went from bad to worse when Edouard injured his shoulder. Depleted entirely of secondary players, linebacker Jordan Williams became a defensive back, moving Adarius Pickett to halfback.

Defensive coordinator Corey Mace’s usually exotic defence was reduced to running cover three on repeat for the remainder of the game with so many pieces out of place, but they were able to hang on for the win nevertheless.

Global Holder
An important detail that was lost in the excitement of the game was that Toronto’s global punter John Haggerty was used exclusively as a holder while he worked his way back from a knee injury that kept him out of practice all week. Boris Bede took over Haggerty’s punting duties and performed admirably while hitting all five of his extra points as well as his only field goal attempt.

The importance of the chemistry between the long snapper, the holder, and the kicker can’t be overstated, so it was well worth the roster position to keep Haggerty dressed as the team’s holder. Bede’s seven punts averaged 52.6 yards, two of which pinned Calgary deep in their own end. Bede was the team’s punter and kicker in 2021 before handing the punting duties to Haggerty last season.

Let’s go to the Ex
The Canadian National Exhibition, the country’s largest annual fair, was in full swing Friday night, with Argos ticket-holders able to gain free entrance to the Ex. Having grown up in Toronto, I have fond memories of spending all day on the rides and rollercoasters, then wandering over to Exhibition Stadium to see the Argos play.

The Ex has been around for all but six years of the Argos’ 150-year history, so it’s wonderful to see this tradition continue. The Argos saw a boost in their crowd size thanks in part to this event, and those extra fans, many of whom were probably seeing the Argos for the first time this season, were treated to a highly entertaining football game.

Up Next
The Toronto Argonauts (8-1) get to sit back and watch the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-6) take on the B.C. Lions on Saturday night before squaring off against them in Hamilton on Labour Day Monday at 3:30 p.m EDT. The Argos have a four-point lead over second-place Montreal in the East, and a ten-point lead over Ottawa and Hamilton.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.