On Friday night at BMO Field, the Toronto Argonauts defeated the Edmonton Elks 35-12 in a game that meant nothing for the Argos in the standings but was as important a game from a sentimental standpoint as they come.
Here are my thoughts.
It was the Toronto Argonauts’ 150th anniversary this week, and the organization used this game as an occasion to celebrate the remarkable milestone. That the team was founded 150 years ago and has been playing organized football ever since under the same name is astonishing. The team was formed so long ago that it’s hard to quantify until you realize it happened within a decade of things like Canadian Confederation and the American Civil War.
The Argonauts delivered a celebration worthy of this landmark occasion, welcoming back 10 All-Time Argos and dozens of Double Blue legends including “Rocket” Ismail, “Pinball” Clemons, Condredge Holloway, Terry Greer, Ricky Ray, Chad Owens, Damon Allen, “Mookie” Mitchell, Bill Symons, Carl Brazley, Rodney Harding, Paul Masotti, Don Moen, and Dan Ferrone. There was no Argos fan in attendance under the age of 70 who didn’t have at least a handful of their childhood heroes in attendance on this special night. As a nice touch, the team wore their 150th anniversary logo on their helmets.
It’s been years since ceremonial kickoffs were a thing in football, but the Argos brought back this old tradition on Friday night.
Franchise scoring leaders Lance Chomyc and Noel Prefontaine along with seven-time Grey Cup Champion Hank Ilesic kicked off in unison to fellow legends Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, Michael “Pinball” Clemons, and “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” Chad Owens. They each returned their kick all the way for a touchdown because, of course, they did.
On the topic of record-setting returners, Toronto’s Javon Leake almost tied a CFL record with his fifth punt return touchdown of the season. Twice!
The first was a 35-yard return which ended when former Argonaut Eli Mencer made a shoestring tackle to prevent the touchdown. The second was run back for 41 yards only to be foiled by punter Jake Julien. Tying the record in front of Clemons, Owens, and Ismail would have been epic.
With their 13th win of the season, the 2023 Argonauts have tied “Rocket” Ismail’s 1991 team for the fourth most wins in franchise history. The star-studded 1988 Argos squad went 14-4, and Doug Flutie’s teams in 1996 and 1997 both went 15-3.
With three games remaining, this team has an opportunity to set a franchise record for wins, but it’s been made clear that getting players healthy will be prioritized over records, both team and individual.
Toronto’s offence missed three scoring opportunities in the second quarter that would have put the game away. It didn’t matter against the Elks in the end, but in the playoffs, the Argos can’t afford to misstep like this.
First, a wide-open Tommy Nield appeared to slow down on a corner route while looking back for the ball. Second, Chad Kelly overthrew DaVaris Daniels, who had slipped behind coverage. Third, Damonte Coxie dropped a short pass that could easily have turned into a long touchdown with both halfbacks and all three linebackers biting hard on Kelly’s play action to A.J. Ouellette. Kelly was used sparingly as a passer, attempting only four passes in the second half before handing the ball over to Cameron Dukes.
As they have all season long with a lead in the second half, the Argos pounded the football on the ground. A.J. Ouellette led the way with 65 yards on 14 carries, with Dan Adeboboye and Deonta McMahon contributing as well. Toronto ran the ball on 65 percent of their snaps, well above both their own and the league average.
Tre Ford has been tearing up CFL defences since he took over the starting job almost two months ago. On Friday, the Argos forced two interceptions, held Ford in check through the air and on the ground, and sacked the young quarterback five times.
Defensive coordinator Corey Mace didn’t run the vanilla defence we saw last week against Winnipeg, instead disguising a wide variety of blitzes and coverages well. The key, however, was in not using his defensive ends to go after Ford.
Despite leading the team in sacks and pressures, Flo Orimolade and his fellow defensive ends set the edge responsibly while the defensive tackles and linebackers finished the job.
I’m wrong a lot, especially when it comes to preseason predictions. This year, I had Ottawa making the playoffs and Montreal last in the league. One preseason prediction I’m going to stand by, however, is that 21-year-old defensive back Qwan’tez Stiggers will end up on an NFL practice squad next season.
After spending most of the season as the field corner, Stiggers moved to the boundary side following an injury to Jamal Peters in Week 15. Last week, he held Winnipeg’s Kenny Lawler to 29 yards on three catches, and this week he limited Geno Lewis to 33 yards on three catches. A 21-year-old who can shut down two of the best receivers in the CFL in consecutive weeks despite never having played a snap of college football deserves an NFL look at the very least.
For the Wyn
This game never felt in doubt, but Wynton McManis put it to bed with a pick-six in the third quarter that extended Toronto’s lead to 17 points.
McManis wasn’t drawn in at all on the play action by Tre Ford to Kevin Brown, instead breaking immediately towards Geno Lewis, undercutting his slant route for the interception. It looked to me like the result of film study.
McManis returned the ball 83 yards for a touchdown. Brown tracked Wynton down at the 13-yard line, but slid off his body as he tried to make the tackle.
WYNTON TAKES IT HOOOOOOOOOOOME 🏠
— CFL (@CFL) October 7, 2023
What can Brown do for you?
Kevin Brown is one of the most talented running backs in the CFL. He came into this week with the second-most rushing yards, but Toronto completely shut him down. He had negative three yards rushing in the first half and ended up with 10 yards on six carries.
In their previous matchup, the Argos held Brown to 16 yards on six carries. I actually wonder if the Argos spotted something in Brown’s body language or alignment that tipped the play call. It felt like whenever Brown got the ball, he was hit immediately by two or three Argos. Brown will be happy not to see Toronto again this season.
Show me the money!
Boris Bede was a perfect two-for-two on field goals and hit all three of his extra points to move into 23rd all-time in CFL scoring with 1,025 points, passing Calgary Stampeders legend Larry Robinson. Bede’s field goal percentage of 93.5 made him the league leader for just over two hours, at which point the title was reclaimed by B.C.’s Sean Whyte following his flawless four field goal evening in a loss to Winnipeg.
Bede has been punting remarkably well since he started doing double duty following a knee injury to punter John Haggerty in mid-August. Bede took over the league lead in yards per punt from Haggerty with a solid showing against the Elks that included a 59-yard punt that died at the Edmonton two-yard-line. Until last season, Bede had always handled both kicking and punting duties, and he’s making a case to assume both roles next season.
Bede also leads the league in average yards per kickoff by almost 10 yards. Between his field goal accuracy, punting average, and gaudy kickoff numbers, Bede is making a case to become the CFL’s highest-paid specialist next season.
I have been begging the Argonauts for years to put lyrics and a bouncing ball on the Jumbotron whenever they play their fight song. It’s a wonderful, classic fight song from days gone by, but most fans simply don’t know the words. There was no bouncing ball, but for the first time, the lyrics appeared on the scoreboard as the fight song played after every Argos touchdown.
The Toronto Argonauts (13-2) play their final home game of the regular season next Saturday night against the Ottawa Redblacks (4-11).