MONTREAL — Chad Owens’ big first half was the difference maker, as the Toronto Argonauts downed the hometown Montreal Alouettes 23-20 on Friday night.
Owens registered 97-yards on seven-receptions for two touchdowns, while Toronto QB Ricky Ray continued his solid start to the season, racking up 280 yards and two touchdown passes on 20 receptions.
Tonight’s game marked a homecoming of sorts for a pair of Argonauts.
Head Coach Scott Milanovich, who was the Alouettes’ quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for five seasons, as well as safety Etienne Boulay, who was a fan-favourite during his six seasons with the Als both returned to the sidelines of Percival Molson Stadium.
With both teams sitting deadlocked at 2-2 in the East Division, Friday night’s matchup was billed as an early-season opportunity for the teams to begin separating from each other in the standings.
After the Alouettes opted to receive the game’s opening kickoff, quarterback Anthony Calvillo and his offence embarked of their first possession of the evening.
Last week, the Als failed to establish the run game in a losing effort, with tailback Brandon Whitaker rushing just seven times for 31 yards.
Whitaker, however, nearly matched his Week 4 effort in his first three touches of the night; compiling 22 yards on a mere three carries.
The drive would eventually stall; forcing kicker Sean Whyte to connect on a 36-yard field goal for the game’s opening points.
Playing in his first game in Montreal as an Argonaut, Ray wasted no time in introducing himself to the Montreal faithful.
Ray needed just two plays to answer the Alouettes’ opening score, finding receivers Dontrelle Inman and Owens for big gains, the latter of which resulted in a 32-yard touchdown to give the Boatmen a 7-3 lead.
On Montreal’s ensuing possession, the offensive stream continued to flow through Whitaker.
The 26-year old carried the offence downfield into Toronto territory, giving way for the Als’ aerial attack to finally take flight.
Calvillo would connect with Jamel Richardson for a 12-yard gain, and followed that up with a touchdown toss to Brandon London to give the Als a 10-7 lead.
Despite the success of the drive, both Whitaker and Richardson would sustain injuries, forcing them to leave the game with 4:25 remaining in the first frame.
Richardson would return to the field on Montreal’s next possession, while Whitaker remained in the locker room for the remainder of the half.
With Ray taking the spotlight on Toronto’s first possession of the outing, running back Cory Boyd notched his first touch of the game the next time the offence took the field – a three-yard power run up the middle.
Two plays later, Milanovich gambled on a third-and-short situation, paving the way for backup pivot Jarious Jackson to gain a first down with a short run.
After Montreal defensive back Seth Williams took a costly defensive pass interference penalty, allowing the Toronto offence to stay on the field, Ray would complete two-straight passes to Owens and receiver Spencer Watt, bringing the drive inside the red zone.
Boyd eventually capped off the first quarter with a four-yard run.
One the first play of the second frame, Ray would connect with Owens once again, this time for a 10-yard major to give the Argos the lead for the second time of the night.
Toronto’s defence would then make an important stop, forcing the Als to a two-and-out, culminated by a 57-yard punt by Whyte.
Ray’s hot half would continue on the very next possession, as he found receiver Chandler Williams for a massive 54-yard gain. The Argos seemingly added to their lead one play later, with Ray finding Jason Barnes in the endzone for a touchdown. However, the score was called back due to a holding penalty.
But Toronto didn’t lose any momentum, as Ray got the Argos back into field goal position, allowing Waters to connect on a 15-yard field goal, extending his team’s lead to 17-10.
Ray Solid Again
Coming off arguably his best performance of the season last week, Ricky Ray used a strong first half and managed the game well in the second to help lead Toronto to their second-straight win.
However, the Als would answer on their next possession, with Whyte booting a 26-yard field goal.
After both teams failed to generate traction in the latter parts of the second quarter, Owens entered the spotlight yet again, this time showing off his skills on special teams.
The always-dangerous Owens returned a punt 46 yards to his own 50-yard line, but fumbled on a tackle from behind by Kyries Hebert. However, the Argonauts challenged the call, prompting the CFL Command Centre to overturn the fumble, handing possession back to the Argonauts.
But Ray and the offence wouldn’t be able to find the endzone, forcing Waters to connect on his second field goal of the night, this time from 54 yards out.
Owens finished the half with six receptions for 98 yards, while Ray finished with 238 yards on 12 completions.
The Alouettes would receive some good news when the third quarter got underway, as Whitaker was given clearance by the team doctors to resume play.
But Whitaker would fumble on his second carry since returning from the sidelines, giving the Argos excellent field position for their first drive of the half.
Fortunately for Whitaker, the Argos weren’t able convert the turnover into points, with Waters missing a 46-yard field goal attempt.
On the missed attempt, Montreal’s Bo Bowling returned the offering 49 yards. However, an unnecessary roughness penalty by Shea Emry forced the Als to move back to their own five-yard line.
Whyte was eventually forced to punt it away, giving the ball back to the Boatmen.
The second half also saw the re-emergence of Richardson, who through four games managed to register just 15 receptions for 225 yards.
Calvillo looked to Richardson often through the third quarter, connecting with the veteran receiver on six occasions; a season-high.
With both offences unable to penetrate the opposing defences, special teams and field position began to play an even more important role midway through the fourth quarter.
Toronto added to their lead with their first points of the second half, thanks to a 50-yard field goal by Waters.
But the Alouettes would answer right back, with Whyte connecting on a 33-yard field goal of his own, cutting Toronto’s lead to just three points.
Despite shortening the lead, Calvillo and the rest of the Montreal offence seemed out on synch, with the veteran pivor overthrowing his targers on several occasions.
With 2:20 left in the game, the Argos continued to hold onto a slim 23-20 lead. The offence would attempt to take as much time off the clock as possible, handing the ball off to Boyd on two consecutive first downs.
But with 1:11 left in the game, Toronto wasn’t able to convert on second down, forcing Waters to come out and punt.
The Alouettes would take over possession with :45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Calvillo would then hook up with London for two-straight first downs, bringing Montreal’s last-minute drive into Toronto territory.
The next play would see Argos linebacker Brandon Isaac sack Calvillo for an eight-yard loss, shifting the drive back into Montreal’s territory.
But the veteran pivot rebounded with an eight-yard strike to S.J. Green, paving the way for Whyte to attempt a 54-yard field goal to tie the game.
However, Whyte’s kick would fall just short, giving the Argonauts their third win of the season.