TORONTO — With the game on the line, Evan McCullough and the Toronto Argonauts’ maligned defence came up big.
Toronto’s defence withstood a spirited comeback bid by Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant as the Argos (2-6) held on for an exciting 24-18 win over the Roughriders to halt a six-game losing streak.
Durant erased a 24-4 deficit by hitting Chris Getzlaf and former Argo James Robinson on fourth-quarter TD strikes of 70 and 21 yards. Durant then smartly drove Saskatchewan (1-7) to the Toronto 19-yard line before coming up short on two shots into the end zone for the game-winning score.
On his first attempt, Durant tried to hit Getzlaf at the back of the end zone but McCullough ripped the ball out of Getzlaf’s hands. Durant looked for Getzlaf again on third down but McCullough and teammate Byron Parker combined to make sure the pass was incomplete to preserve the victory.
“He (Getzlaf) ran a post and then I saw him come back and thought it was up to me to make a play,” McCullough said of the first knockdown. “Give him credit, he made a good play but I’m glad it came out in my favour.
“We relaxed for a moment and they came back but we recovered. In the end it was kind of rough but it was a big win for us.”
And sweet redemption for an Argos defence that came into the game ranked last in the CFL in rushing yards allowed (124 per game) and total yards allowed (404.8 per game), and second-last in points allowed (30.7) and passing yards allowed (292.3).
“This was definitely a personal game,” Parker said. “We take criticism personally and we’ve heard a lot of it.
“But we believe in each other.”
However, the Riders certainly gave the Argos a helping hand, committing four turnovers and 11 penalties for 99 yards. A big one came to start the second half when, with Saskatchewan trailing 11-0, Durant’s 37-yard completion to Getzlaf inside Toronto’s 10-yard line was negated by a holding penalty.
The Roughriders still drove to the Toronto 20-yard line, but the 50-yard, 12-play drive ended with rookie Christopher Milo missing a 27-yard field goal at 6:35 to cut the Argos’ lead to 14-1.
Milo missed two of the three field goals he tried for the Riders, the West Division champions the last two years who find themselves mired in a four-game losing streak.
Tristan Jackson’s interception with 16 seconds left in the first half was negated by Lance Frazier’s pass interference penalty. That allowed Toronto to boot a field goal for a 14-0 half-time advantage.
Toronto’s Cory Boyd scored the first of his two one-yard TDs at 5:34 of the first, which was set up by a Riders’ pass interference penalty in the end zone. The Argos got the ball when Jordan Younger recovered Durant’s fumble at the Saskatchewan 31-yard line on its first offensive play of the game.
Later, Jackson’s 19-yard punt return was nullified by illegal block and objectionable conduct penalties before Stu Foord’s 13-yard run came back because of a crackback block.
Jackson’s tough luck continued in the second when a holding penalty negated his sparkling 42-yard punt return. Still, Saskatchewan drove to the Toronto 34-yard line before failing to convert on third-and-one.
“Realistically, if we make a couple of field goals early in the game we’re kicking a field goal at the end to win it,” Saskatchewan head coach Greg Marshall said.
“We just made too many mistakes that came back to haunt us in the end.
“It wasn’t a lack of effort why we lost.”
Saskatchewan dominated Toronto statistically, registering more first downs (27-19), rushing yards (99-95), passing yards (384-169), total yards (468-248) while holding the ball for over 33 minutes. But crucial mistakes again proved to be the Riders’ undoing.
“We killed ourselves all game,” said Durant, who finished 31-of-44 passing for 384 yards with two TDs and an interception. “We had big punt returns and big passes downfield (called back), we had bad field position. Penalties really killed us.”
Argos quarterback Cleo Lemon fell short in his bid for a third straight 300-yard passing performance. Lemon was still 20-of-28 passing for 169 yards with no interceptions. He added 27 yards rushing on two carries and even ended one run with a hook slide, something Toronto coaches have pleaded with Lemon to do.
Even with Saskatchewan’s many miscues, Toronto head coach/GM Jim Barker wasn’t about to apologize for the victory.
“It’s nice to get the monkey off our back,” he said. “Tough game, they came back as we knew they would but the guys bucked up at the end.
“Tonight was vital. Now we have to build on it.”
Toronto will have time to relish the victory. The club is off until Aug. 28 when it will begin preparing to host the B.C. Lions on Sept. 2.
Saskatchewan also has time to think about what might’ve been as it doesn’t play again until Sept. 4 when it hosts Winnipeg. Marshall couldn’t say what – if any – changes might be made between now and then.
“We just walked off the field, I have no idea what’s going to happen this week,”he said. ”We have to get back to Regina, we have to sit down and watch the film, we have to talk to the people involved.
“It’s a long process, it just doesn’t happen like that when you walk off the field.”
Prefontaine finished with three field goals, two converts and a single.
Milo had a field goal, two converts and a single.
NOTES: Kicker Eddie Johnson and linebacker Sean Lucas were among Saskatchewan’s scratches while neither tailback Chad Kackert nor defensive tackle Kevin Huntley dressed for Toronto . . . Parker needs one more interception return TD to tie the CFL record of eight that’s shared between former CFL greats Dick Thornton and Malcolm Frank as well as Edmonton’s Jason Goss . . . Thursday’s game was broadcast live south of the border on The NFL Network.