On Saturday night, the Toronto Argonauts etched their names into the annals of history, defeating the Ottawa Redblacks 27-22 in the nation’s capital.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
Record book entries
Toronto’s win was their CFL record-tying 16th of the season, a mark set by Edmonton in 1989 and never equalled until now. They also set a record for most regular season wins in team history, passing the two Doug Flutie-led Argos teams of 1996 and 1997 that finished 15-3.
The win marked their 10th victory against East Division opponents, making them the only CFL team in history to finish their season with a perfect division record with at least nine games played. That mark includes four wins over Hamilton and three over both Montreal and Ottawa.
The chapter to be written
The Argonauts players and coaches have made it clear since they began the season with six straight wins that the priority, above all else, was to win their second consecutive Grey Cup. Many CFL teams of the past with great records have been largely forgotten about for failing to win the championship, including that historic Edmonton squad from 1989.
This isn’t lost on the team or their head coach. In his postgame comments, head coach Ryan Dinwiddie brought up the 2007 New England Patriots, who went undefeated in the regular season but lost in the Super Bowl.
Final day of rest
Ryan Dinwiddie has done a great job managing players’ rest since Toronto clinched the East Division back on September 15th and seems to have avoided any major injuries to his starters in the process. The salary cap rules actually make it quite difficult to rest a lot of starters for a single game because their salaries still count towards the cap, along with every player elevated to replace them.
Over each of the past two seasons, the Argos have used the final game to rest as many starters as possible, which seems to have been the plan against Ottawa. Chad Kelly dressed as the third quarterback but didn’t take a snap, while A.J. Ouellette, DaVaris Daniels, Damonte Coxie, Dewayne Hendrix, Wynton McManis, Qwan’tez Stiggers, and Tarvarus McFadden all had the night off.
Cameron Dukes played the entire game for the Argonauts and looked impressive going up against most of Ottawa’s starting defence. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 317 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Dukes made sound reads, smart decisions, and threw the ball with accuracy, but he also looked like a leader, showing faith in his players. He was picked off after an accurate pass went off Richie Sindani’s hands, but on Dukes’ very next passing opportunity, he went right back to Sindani to show him he hadn’t lost faith.
Based on comments Ryan Dinwiddie had made earlier in the week, I expected to see Bryan Scott enter the game at some point, but he never got a shot. Scott’s only action this regular season consisted of four consecutive incomplete passes against Winnipeg.
Cameron Dukes said something postgame that struck me as interesting. He has looked unusually comfortable for a rookie American quarterback — especially one who played at the NAIA level. When asked about adjusting so quickly to the Canadian game, he talked about how the waggle wasn’t new to him having played in the Indoor Football League.
Of course, they don’t play with the American standard of 11 players a side in that league either. I’m not suggesting every IFL quarterback would be a good fit in the CFL, but I can see how that experience might expedite the learning process for an intelligent player like Dukes.
Midway through the second quarter, running back Dan Adeboboye went down with an injury. The cart was sent out to get him, but the second-year Canadian waved it off and hobbled to the sideline himself. X-rays came back negative according to Ryan Dinwiddie, but Adeboboye suffered a high ankle sprain, putting his playoff availability in jeopardy.
Adeboboye proved to be a very capable back last week, and Toronto’s ground game was non-existent without him against Ottawa, but his special teams play is where he’ll be missed most if he can’t return to action. A.J. Ouellette will get the start at running back in the Eastern Final, and Andrew Harris will likely be able to return as his backup. The Argonauts spent most of the season dressing four running backs because both Adeboboye and Javon Leake were such valuable special teams contributors.
New kids on the block
13 of Cameron Dukes’ targets went to starting boundary receivers Richie Sindani and Carlton Agudosi, both of whom signed with the Argonauts earlier this month. Sindani had a drop, but also made two spectacular catches, while Agudosi seemed to have no trouble getting open, yet dropped a wide-open deep ball that could have gone for a touchdown.
Barring an injury, it’s tough to see Agudosi dressing in the playoffs but don’t be surprised if Sindani is on the game roster in the Eastern Final, especially if Dan Adeboboye is unable to go, freeing up a Canadian roster spot.
Six-pack of pick-sixes
In the opening quarter, halfback Mason Pierce jumped in front of a Dustin Crum pass intended for Justin Hardy, and took it back 35 yards for a touchdown. It was a sensational play with Pierce coming from the opposite side of the field.
This was Toronto’s league-leading sixth interception return for a touchdown this season, two coming courtesy of Wynton McManis with Robertson Daniel, Royce Metchie, and DaShaun Amos contributing the others. The Montreal Alouettes have five pick-sixes, and of the remaining teams, only Ottawa and Edmonton have more than one.
Timing is everything
Both of Cameron Dukes’ interceptions were followed by Dustin Crum being picked off on the very next play. This is the type of complimentary football the Argonauts have played all season. On the rare occasions when the offence has failed, the defence or special teams have responded quickly to bail them out, and vice-versa.
Mason Pierce’s pick-six came right after Alonzo Addae’s first interception, and Addae’s second interception was followed by a pick from Benjie Franklin. Franklin travelled with the team but wasn’t initially on the dress roster. When cornerback Jamie Harry felt some tightness during pregame warmup, he was scratched, leaving Franklin to fill in. On his third snap in the CFL, Franklin came away with a diving interception off a tipped ball from Jonathan Jones.
Toronto’s nominee for the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award, Adarius Pickett, was flying all over the field in Ottawa. He finished with a game-high eight defensive tackles, putting him over 100 tackles on the season with a team-high 105. He also contributed a special teams tackle and now has a total of 19, which also leads the Argos.
With 63 punt return yards against Ottawa, Javon Leake became not only Toronto’s single-season record holder for punt return yardage but third all-time in the CFL with 1,216 yards. Leake’s 82 all-purpose yards put him just over 20,00 yards on the season. After scoring four punt return touchdowns in the first half of the year to set a club record, Leake was shut out down the stretch, unable to match the five scored by Gizmo Williams (1991) and Chris Williams (2012).
This game marked Ryan Dinwiddie’s 50th as a CFL head coach, and while he didn’t post the best 50-game start in league history, he’s not far off.
Only Dave Dickenson (40-8-2), Bud Grant (39-11), Frank Ivy (38-12), Don Matthews (37-12-1), and Ralph Sazio (36-13-1) have had more wins to start their coaching careers. In his three seasons at the helm, Dinwiddie has amassed a 36-14 record, finishing first in the East each season.
“It’s great, you know I want to cement my legacy as well, I think anybody would want to,” said Dinwiddie following the game, “but I’m just really happy for our players.”
It’s been a challenge
As good a head coach as Ryan Dinwiddie has been over his three years in Toronto, he just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to throwing his challenge flag. Last season, he won only two of 13 challenges, and this year, despite changes in the team’s mechanism, he’s even worse, going winless in eight attempts.
I thought most of his challenges last season were poor, but I actually agreed with the majority of his challenges in 2023, including the flag he threw against Ottawa in search of a roughing-the-passer call. I expect this will be something he revisits once again in the offseason.
Having earned a first-round playoff bye, the Toronto Argonauts (16-2) will host the winner of the Eastern Semi-Final between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10) and the Montreal Alouettes (11-7) on Saturday, November 11th at BMO Field.