Cameron Dukes led the Toronto Argonauts to a 29-26 come-from-behind win on Saturday, knocking the Saskatchewan Roughriders out of playoff contention.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
Risk, rest, and rust
Chad Kelly started this game and played into the late stages of the third quarter before being replaced by Cameron Dukes, trailing 23-19. On his second last play, Kelly had his ankle twisted by Anthony Lanier II and was clearly in a lot of discomfort, walking with a noticeable limp.
To my eyes, it looked like a questionable play from Lanier, as he appeared to twist Kelly’s ankle on the ground well after the ball had been thrown, but I can’t say with 100 percent certainty he knew the ball was away. No penalty flag was thrown, but it will be interesting to see how the league views it.
Kelly was visibly upset with Lanier in the moment but had composed himself by the time I spoke with him after the game, saying only that he was fine. Head coach Ryan Dinwiddie mentioned that Kelly wanted to go back in but he was planning to take him out at the end of the third quarter regardless.
Toronto clinched first place in the East Division five weeks ago and while that’s a luxury in one sense, it can’t have been easy for Dinwiddie to manage getting players rest without letting them get rusty. He wouldn’t commit to a plan for Kelly next week in Ottawa.
All they do is win, win, win
With their 15th win, the Argonauts have tied a club record for most wins in a season, a mark they set in both 1996 and 1997. Both of those teams won the Grey Cup.
Next week against the Ottawa Redblacks, the team will have an opportunity to tie the league’s all-time record of 16 wins set by Edmonton in 1989, but Toronto’s top priority is winning it all, something that Edmonton team was unable to do.
Along with setting club records, the team also saw several players hit career highs, breaking significant milestones in the process. A.J. Ouellette reached 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career, DaVaris Daniels went over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time, and Chad Kelly surpassed 4,000 passing yards.
I asked Ryan Dinwiddie about dialling up plays for Ouellette and Daniels, and he made clear that hitting those marks was an objective.
“I knew A.J. would get there. He had the one big run, I thought he was there, so I’m asking up in the box, ‘Where’s he at?’, and as soon as he’s up to 1,000, I said let’s get him out of there,” the coach explained. “DaVaris, I found out from [running backs and quality control coach Edwin Harrison] only needed one yard, so I was trying to feed him a little bit to help him get there. You always want to take care of your players that way.”
This wasn’t an insignificant gesture. It means a lot in the locker room when a coach goes out of their way to make something special happen for a player.
The Duke of Regina
Cam Dukes didn’t single-handedly knock Saskatchewan out of the playoffs, but fans of the Green Riders will remember his name for a long time.
With under two minutes remaining in the game, Dukes engineered a seven-play touchdown drive that included a third-and-10 conversion to newly-signed Richie Sindani, and a gorgeous 24-yard back shoulder pass to Damonte Coxie. This was Dukes’ third shot at a game-winning drive after coming up short in the preseason against Hamilton and three weeks ago in Winnipeg, but this time he didn’t miss.
On the Pregame Walkthrough edition of this week’s Xs and Argos Podcast, I mentioned that Damonte Coxie was probably in line for a big game as Ryan Dinwiddie aimed to get his stars rolling before the playoffs.
Last week, it was the DaVaris Daniels showcase. Against Saskatchewan, Coxie had five receptions on seven targets for 105 yards and a touchdown, arguably his biggest game since Toronto’s opener when he went off against Hamilton for 131 yards.
Dan Adeboboye had a huge game on Saturday, taking over for A.J. Ouellette in the second half. On nine carries, the second-year Canadian back ran for a career-high 109 yards and the game-winning touchdown. His 59-yard scamper in the third quarter was Toronto’s longest run of the season from scrimmage, passing A.J. Ouellette’s 42-yard run in Week 6.
The team finished with 183 yards rushing, averaging over 7.6 yards per carry. Adeboboye is a powerful back with great vision, but he’s been stuck behind Ouellette and Andrew Harris on the depth chart. This was his moment to shine.
A-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e, aggressive, b-e aggressive
I was torn at the time when Ryan Dinwiddie decided to go for it on third-and-four from the Saskatchewan 14-yard-line, down four points with four and a half minutes remaining. I’m still torn, but I hate to criticize an aggressive call.
“We weren’t stopping them. I didn’t know if we’d get another chance to get down there. Let’s be aggressive, let’s go for the win,” Dinwiddie said when asked about the decision. “I thought we had a good play call, but obviously, it didn’t work out.”
I generally find Dinwiddie to be a more conservative coach than myself, but with four minutes and 28 seconds remaining in the game, I would have kicked a field goal. The defence had only given up nine points in the second half, and there are generally multiple possessions in the final minutes of a CFL game. That said, I applaud the aggressive mentality and hope this failed attempt doesn’t result in conservative third-down decisions going forward.
Two turnovers too many
After going two straight games without committing a turnover and carrying a league-low 21 into this week’s games, the Argos threw an interception, lost a fumble, and turned the ball over on downs. The team will almost certainly beat their club record of 32 set back in 2017, but they’ve missed out on beating the league record of 23 set by the Blue Bombers last season and the Lions in 2012.
Down to the wire
The Argos are dominating the league with the fewest sacks allowed, but after giving up two against Saskatchewan to make it 17 on the season, they will need a clean sheet in the final week to break their club record of 18 set back in 1996. The team can’t play with every single potential record on their minds, but the fact that they’re in the ballpark for so many team and league marks down the stretch tells you how good this team is from a historical perspective.
Jamal Peters returned to action for the first time since Week 16, so the dynamic duo of he and Qwan’tez Stiggers were back together again.
It appeared as though Jake Dolegala was going after Stiggers early in the game, though it could just be he was avoiding Jamal Peters. Stiggers responded well, though he got a bit unlucky when he tipped a pass that ended up in the arms of Kian Schaffer-Baker.
The rookie-of-the-year candidate intercepted Dolegala in the endzone on the first play of the second quarter and was instrumental in Mason Pierce’s interception that sealed the game for Toronto. He finished the game with a team-high seven tackles. I’d like to ask him and Peters which one of them is Batman and which is Robin.
Holding their ground
It was clear from the start of the game that Toronto’s plan was to shut down Saskatchewan’s rushing attack and force Jake Dolegala to beat them through the air. He almost did.
Dolegala logged 429 passing yards with two touchdowns, but Toronto’s strategy paid off in the end with Saskatchewan unable to kill the clock or sustain drives down the stretch. The Roughriders managed only 13 rushing yards in the first half and 24 in the second, finishing the game with just over two yards per carry.
Major performance from Miner
When it comes to game-winning plays, Mason Pierce isn’t the first Argonauts defender you think of, but he was a star on Saturday. The Colorado School of Mines product essentially ended the game with his second career interception.
“They had to get in field goal range, so I was expecting getting something out of bounds, and I just saw it and broke, and made the play,” he said of the play post-game.
Pierce was assisted on the play by Qwan’tez Stiggers, who dropped from his flats coverage forcing Jake Dolegala to loft it over him which gave his teammate more time to get to the ball. Pierce seemed more excited about his first career sack. He’s been sent on about a dozen halfback blitzes but remained shut out until this game in Regina.
“I’ve been getting some talk from the guys. They said if I don’t get one soon, they’re going to have to take all the blitzes for me, so I’m happy I got that one,” he said, grinning ear to ear.
The Toronto Argonauts (15-2) wrap up their regular season on the road against the Ottawa Redblacks (4-13) on Saturday, October 28.