TORONTO — While the thought of eliminating the team that traded him last off-season must have its appeal, Ricky Ray was all business in his post-game scrum, following a 42-26 win over the Eskimos in Sunday’s Eastern Semi-Final.
“I don’t have any hard feelings,” said Ray. “Just losing to them twice in the regular season and not having that first win against your former team makes this one feel so much better.”
“It’s kind of like getting a monkey off our back and being a playoff game makes it a little bit more special.”
It wasn’t just the Argos’ first win of the season against the Eskimos, but that’s really all that matters, as the Boatmen have booked their ticket to next weekend’s Eastern Final against the Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium.
For Ray, the hype of playing his former team had surely worn off by now, considering he opened the 2012 campaign at Commonwealth Stadium while also hosting the Green and Gold at the Rogers Centre in August – both in losing efforts.
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This time, it was nothing personal. The goal was to reach the Division Final, and the Eskimos were the only ones standing in the way of that happening.
Ray fought off his team’s slow first quarter to throw for 239 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while adding another one on the ground from seven yards out in what turned out to be just another day at the office.
“We just made some plays,” reflected the first-year Argonaut. “Special teams, we’ve got a really good returner and I think that’s our first one of the year.”
“That was huge,” he said of Chad Owens’ momentum-swaying touchdown in the second quarter.
The Argos’ sluggish start was described by their head coach, Scott Milanovich, as the team’s worst start to a game this season.
But there was never any panic among the players, and that’s something the rookie headman credits Ray’s poise and veteran experience for.
“We couldn’t have started worse than we did,” he said. “That’s why it’s good to have a veteran quarterback that’s been in that situation and isn’t going to get rattled.”
“Our defence stepped it up after that first drive and kept giving us the ball back and we had good field position basically from towards the end of the first quarter and throughout the second and were able to take advantage of it.”
After being down 7-0 through 15 minutes, the momentum first turned early in the second when former Argos running back Cory Boyd fumbled while being met at the line of scrimmage on a second-and-short.
Ronald Flemons scooped up the loose ball, giving Ray and the offence possession deep in Edmonton territory.
It led to a short touchdown pass to Chad Kackert on second down, and it was that juncture of the game that could be pinpointed as the biggest turning point.
The Argos went on to score 31 straight points that quarter, setting a CFL record for most points in a single quarter during a playoff game. The previous record of 29 points was sat back on Nov. 10, 1979.
Although Ray finally settled the score with his former team, the playoff drama isn’t about to end there for the Argos.
Next weekend, the Boatmen will pay a visit to Olympic Stadium, where Milanovich will go head-to-head against his former head coach, Marc Trestman.
Meanwhile, Ray will battle Anthony Calvillo for the fourth time in 2012, as two of the league’s hottest quarterbacks duel in the comfort of ‘The Big O’.
But Milanovich and Ray, while used to these types of storylines, are well-focused on the task at hand.
“They’ll be confident, they play well in that stadium, they’re rested and they too have a great quarterback,” said Milanovich, who spent five years as a coach in Montreal, first starting as a quarterbacks coach before taking on a larger role as offensive coordinator.
“Certainly we can’t get off to the same kind of start as we did tonight.”
The Argos started their season series against Montreal with a bang, getting an important 23-20 win at Percival-Molson Stadium back on July 27.
But with Ray missing most of the second game and the entire third game in the series with an injured knee, the Alouettes took the final two games by a combined score of 55-22. Which means Milanovich’s club knows it will have to avoid focusing on any more drama.
“This is not going to be me versus Marc, or Anthony versus Ricky,” Milanovich said. “It’s going to be two football teams – it’s going to be a hard-fought, tough battle for 60 minutes.”
“I think our guys are up to the challenge.”
– With files from The Canadian Press