- Free Agency
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — Pacino Horne and the Toronto Argonauts defence took all the pressure off Ricky Ray’s shoulders in the 100th Grey Cup.
Horne’s 25-yard interception return for a touchdown highlighted a rugged defensive performance that staggered the Calgary Stampeders before Ray delivered the knockout punch and earned the Argos the historic 35-22 win Sunday.
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“They dominated the game and gave us that score which was huge,” Ray said of Toronto’s defence. “We didn’t have to play with a lot of pressure on us offensively.
“We had a lead the whole game pretty much and they were doing such a good job of limiting them to field goals that we felt like we could stick with our gameplan and stay patient and make solid plays.”
Expectations in Toronto were high this season with the acquisition of Ray, a two-time Grey Cup champion in Edmonton, in a blockbuster trade with the Eskimos last December. Ray finished 18-of-30 passing for 231 yards and two TDs with one interception on Sunday but didn’t feel he had to shoulder the load in the Argos’ biggest game of the year.
“It has been unbelievable coming to a new team at this point in my career after being in one place so long,” Ray said. “To tell you I even had this in my mind when I got traded here, I didn’t.”
Toronto’s defence, under the guidance of former Calgary assistant Chris Jones, was solid in holding CFL rushing leader Jon Cornish to
57 yards while consistently pressuring quarterback Kevin Glenn. Ray’s seven-yard TD pass to Andre Durie late in the game cemented Toronto’s league-high 16th Grey Cup championship.
Milanovich said having the experienced Ray running the offence was key to Toronto’s win but added Horne’s touchdown was the turning point of the game.
“From then on I think our confidence was sky high and we played with the lead the rest of the game,” he said.
Toronto running back Chad Kackert, with 133 yards rushing, was the game MVP while defensive end Ricky Foley, a native of nearby Courtice, Ont., claimed top Canadian honours.
Kackert showed the Argos have a multi-faceted offence that could compensate for a relatively quiet game from CFL outstanding player Chad Owens. The league’s top receiver this season had two catches for 14 yards while adding four punt returns for 27 yards and two kickoff returns for 62 yards.
“Chad Owens was outstanding player and maybe they keyed on him and we have a lot of great receivers too,” Kackert said. “You can’t key on anybody.”
It was a monumental victory for a Toronto organization that rolled the dice with four huge moves this season: hiring a rookie coach in Milanovich, landing a new defensive co-ordinator in Jones (and paying a $5,000 tampering fine from the CFL), acquiring Ray and releasing CFL rushing leader Cory Boyd in favour of sophomore Kackert.
All four paid major dividends for the Argos, who captured the Grey Cup win at home at a time when, with the NHL in a lockout, they had the sports spotlight in the city all to themselves. They’ll celebrate their win with a victory parade through downtown on Tuesday.
“I was just trying to come here and come my best and help this team out anyway I could,” said Ray. “Looking back, what a special year for all of us. Everyone has their tough times they’ve overcome, I’m not the only one. We just stuck together as a family throughout this whole ordeal.”
Added Foley: “It was kind of weird how it worked out. We got Ricky from Edmonton and the first round of the playoffs we got the Eskimos. We got coach Milanovich from Montreal and the second round we faced the Alouettes. We got coach Jones from Calgary and in the Grey Cup Cup we play the Stampeders. It couldn’t have been a more perfect script.”
Milanovich was less philosophical.
“I don’t know what this wins says,” Milanovich said. “All I know is we’re the 100th Grey Cup champions and no one can take that away from us.”
The Argos dominated a potent Calgary offence that scored 51 TDs this season _ tied with Montreal for the league lead _ holding it to just four field goals before Maurice Price’s TD catch and two-point conversion with 20 seconds remaining.
Horne brought the rabid Rogers Centre sellout crowd of 53,208 to its feet in the opening half. His key 25-yard TD interception return staked Toronto to a dominant 18-point halftime advantage.
Calgary came in as the CFL’s hottest team with 13 wins in 15 games after opening the season 3-4. Glenn guided the club to nine wins in 14 starts after incumbent Drew Tate injured his shoulder, then replaced the injured Tate (forearm) to lead the Stampeders past the defending Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions in last weekend’s West final.
Cornish, the league’s top Canadian after running for 1,457 yards this season, and slotback Nik Lewis (CFL-high 100 catches) were both focal points of Calgary’s offence. And although Lewis had six receptions for 100 yards, 61 came on one play.
But Glenn and Co. had no answer for Toronto’s swarming defence as the Argos ended their season with a fifth straight victory.
“We didn’t start well. We didn’t take advantage of their turnover and they got two touchdowns on theirs,” Stampeders coach John Hufnagel said. “But the bottom line was that we didn’t get the ball into the end zone until the game was out of reach.”
It was obvious early who the crowd’s team of choice was as Calgary players received polite applause during the pre-game introductions before Rogers Centre exploded with loud chants of “Arrgooooos!” when it was time for the Toronto offence to come on the field. Not surprisingly, the loudest cheers were for Owens and Ray, the club’s offensive catalysts in 2012.
And Foley said the Argos fed off that energy.
“This crowd was great,” he said. “It’s the best feeling as a player when you can point to the fans and 50,000 people start to roar for you.
“It was unreal.”
After pop stars Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen headlined the halftime show, Calgary took possession to open the third, looking to respond after being thoroughly dominated in the opening half. The Stampeders did respond with an 81-yard, nine-play drive but only managed a field goal to cut Toronto’s lead to 24-9.
Owens returned the kickoff 43 yards to the Toronto 53 before being tackled by kicker Rene Paredes, who got up, threw his helmet and began yelling at his teammates.
Toronto then got lucky twice.
The first break came when Toronto kicker Swayze Waters plunked a 15-yard field goal off the upright, but a procedure call gave him a second shot from 20 yards, which he made to put the Argos ahead 27-9. But the killer for Calgary came on the kickoff when Larry Taylor’s 105-yard TD return was negated by a holding call.
Owens and Dontrelle Inman had Toronto’s other touchdowns. Waters added the converts and two field goals while Noel Prefontaine added a single.
Calgary added a safety in finishing a dismal 0-3 versus Toronto this season.
Toronto’s suffocating defence forced three turnovers and set up two TDs to stake the Argos to a 24-6 halftime lead. The Argos recovered a fumble, picked Glenn off and stopped rookie backup Matt Walter on a third-down gamble.
Toronto defence stacked the box against Cornish, holding him to 37 yards rushing on nine attempts, but 26 came on two carries late in the half. Calgary managed just five first downs as Glenn, forced to deal with excessive crowd noise on every snap, was just 5-of-11 passing for 141 yards _ 61 coming on the completion to Lewis.
Ray was 13-of-20 passing for 177 yards and a TD but completed 10-of-11 attempts for 130 yards on second down.
Foley’s recovery of a Cornish fumble at the Calgary 44 led to Ray’s five-yard TD strike to Owens to cap a six-play, 44-yard drive at 8:03 of the first. Horne recorded the biggest play of the half, going low to pick off then getting up and returning it for the touchdown. Glenn threw inside, seemingly expecting Price to break to his left but the Stampeders receiver went to his right, leaving Horne all alone for the interception.
“He had a rough start but he rebounded,” Hufnagel said of Glenn, who was replaced late by backup Bo Levi Mitchell. “We were getting in scoring position but we had to settle
for field goals.”
Toronto’s offence started tentatively but Ray tested Calgary’s secondary with a willingness to go deep. After failing to connect, Ray hit Jason Barnes on a 62-yard reception that set up Waters’ 16-yard field goal for a 17-3 lead.
The Argos’ defence came up huge later in the second with Calgary facing second-and-five from the Toronto four-yard line. Instead of passing, the Stampeders tried an end-around with receiver Romby Bryant, who was tackled for a seven-yard loss by linebacker Ejiro Kuale to force an 18-yard field goal.
Toronto ended the half emphatically on backup Jarious Jackson’s one-yard TD pass to Inman with 20 seconds remaining. Jackson’s pass came after Toronto struggled on short-yardage run attempts in last weekend’s 27-20 East Division final win in Montreal.