REGINA — Ricky Ray threw four touchdown passes while the Argos defence held off a last-minute drive, as the Boatmen topped the Roughriders 31-26 on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium to clinch second place in the East Division and a home playoff game.
It was the second straight game the 33-year-old gunslinger had four touchdown passes and eclipsed 300 yards, giving him eight touchdown passes in two starts since returning from a knee sprain that sidelined him for three starts.
Darian Durant threw for 252 yards and a touchdown in the loss, while Kory Sheets had another impressive day at the office with 86 rushing yards on 11 touchdowns to go with 49 yards through the air.
The Argos defence set the tone early with a two-and-out on defence, giving them great starting field position on offence early.
Ray quickly went to work, making good on four straight completions including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Mann to give the Boatmen a big 7-0 lead on the road.
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After a third straight three-and-out for the Riders, the first-year Argo pivot quickly kept his offence moving, hitting Spencer Watt and Mann for more yards, followed by a long run from Chad Kackert to move into the red zone again.
Andre Durie took care of the rest, taking a swing pass into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Argos lead.
After a 38-yard Sandro DeAngelis field goal followed by a quick stop on defence, momentum began to swing as Durant and the Riders took the field at the Toronto 45-yard-line.
From there the Riders would move the chains twice, before handing the ball off to Sheets, who carried the pile for the last 10 yards of a 24-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 14-10.
But after DeAngelis cut the deficit to one following a 27-yard field goal, the Argos responded with a methodical 12-play scoring drive, capped off by Durie’s second touchdown catch of the game from seven yards out.
The drive took 4:08 off the clock, giving the Green and White just enough time for a 36-yard field goal before the half to make it 21-16 Argos through 30 minutes.
In the second half the Riders opened with a big play on special teams, as Tristan Jackson bursted along the sideline deep into Argos territory, giving the Riders a chance to take their first lead of the game.
But after stalling, DeAngelis couldn’t connect on a chip-shot, leaving the Riders with just a single point for their efforts.
Chad Owens continues to move in on the single-season record for all-purpose yards, after recording 104 receiving yards while adding 74 yards on special teams.
Ray would make the Green and White pay soon after, hooking up with Chad Owens behind coverage for a 60-yard touchdown pass, his fourth of the game to give the Boatmen a 28-17 lead.
The Riders fought back with another DeAngelis field goal late in the third quarter, sending them into the fourth against the wind and trailing by eight points.
After a quick two-and-out for the Boatmen, Durant and the Riders offence went right back to work, getting a key first down to Taj Smith before a 43-yard completion to Kory Sheets.
Durant followed that up with a touchdown pass to Weston Dressler, capping off a quick five-play scoring drive. They’d fail on the two-point conversion, making it a 28-26 Argos lead early in the fourth quarter.
With time ticking down in the fourth quarter and the wind at their backs, Ray headed under centre looking to respond with a long drive for the Boatmen.
After a key completion on second-and-10 to Mann to extend the drive, Ray found his groove with completions to Durie and Mann again, moving into field goal range for Swayze Waters from 24 yards out.
If the Riders were going to pull off the win, it was going to take a long drive against the wind with 1:15 remaining in the game, trailing by five points.
Durant moved the offence early on completions to Smith and Greg Carr, but it was Armond Armstead fighting through the line for a sack on Durant, putting the Riders in a second and long situation.
On second down, Durant looked downfield, but was intercepted by Evan McCullough, sealing the deal for the Argos and securing a home playoff game.
With the win, the Argos improved to 8-9 this season and clinched second in the East Division, booking a home playoff date for Nov. 18 against an opponent to be decided. They’ll face either Hamilton, Edmonton, or Saskatchewan, depending on how the rest of the season unfolds.
The Riders, meanwhile, hold a one-game edge for third in the West, and will either play in the West Semi in Calgary or the East Semi in Toronto.