TORONTO — Another start, another win for Bo Levi Mitchell.
Mitchell’s four touchdown passes lead Calgary past the Toronto Argonauts 34-15 on Saturday night. The win was a big one for the Stampeders, who were without running back Jon Cornish and receivers Nik Lewis and Maurice Price.
Cornish, the CFL’s outstanding player last season, and Lewis are out with concussion symptoms while Price has a broken hand.
But that didn’t deter Mitchell, who finished 16-of-24 passing for 268 yards to improve to 5-0 as a starter. He needs two wins to tie the league record for most victories to begin a CFL career held by former Stampeder Jeff Garcia.
“We’re 2-0 right now, that’s all I’m worried about,” Mitchell said. “I’m not worried about my record, I’m worried about this team’s record and that’s what I’m going to keep worrying about.
“I keep doing everything I can in my power to get us in a position to win the game.”
Calgary head coach/GM John Hufnagel was complimentary of his quarterback.
“Bo had a good game, he did what we needed from the position,” Hufnagel said. “He had good composure for the most part, threw the ball very accurately.”
Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said Mitchell had too much time to look downfield.
“I felt like we didn’t get much pressure on him,” Milanovich said. “If he can stand back there and have time, they’re going to gut you.”
With Cornish out, Matt Walter and Jock Sanders split the halfback duties, rushing for 46 and 15 yards, respectively, as Calgary ran for 100 yards on 22 carries. Anthony Parker was the Stampeders’ receiving leader with four catches for 101 yards and a TD while sophomore Jeff Fuller had five receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
Calgary also showed some offensive flare that helped stake it to a 17-9 half-time advantage. Mitchell took a lateral from Sanders, then hit Parker with a 58-yard TD pass to end the first and put Calgary ahead 10-6. The play was originally flagged as an illegal forward pass but overturned by review.
“Dickie (offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson) felt like we were backed up a little bit,” Mitchell said. “We kept being backed up on our drives . . . so we decided, ‘Hey, we’ve got a couple of first downs, let’s get a big one.”’
Then Mitchell found Fuller on an eight-yard TD toss at 5:11 of the second giving Calgary a 17-6 advantage. It was set up by Sanders’ sparkling 121-yard return after Swayze Waters missed a 34-yard field goal try.
But the offence wasn’t the only unit playing hurt. Calgary’s defence held Toronto without a TD despite losing linebacker Deron Mayo and defensive back Keon Raymond to leg injuries.
Mitchell said there’s a simple reason why Calgary continues to win despite mounting injuries.
“The coaching staff,” he said. “Those guys, they work tirelessly.
“They make sure we have the right gameplan, they make sure we’re in there studying, they’re on our backs making sure we’re in there practising the plays.”
Hufnagel was very matter of fact when asked about his team’s injury situation.
“I’m not going to say much except that every team has 44 players and they’re expected to win football games,” he said. “That’s how we approach it.”
Marquay McDaniel had the other TD for Calgary while Rene Paredes had four converts and two field goals.
Waters booted five field goals for Toronto, which was without receivers Andre Durie (clavicle) and Jason Barnes (knee). Rookies Anthony Coombs and Darvin Adams made their first career starts.
After almost scoring at will against the defending Grey Cup champions, Toronto could only muster field goals against a Calgary defence that bent but never broke. The Argos had the ball for over 31 minutes and amassed 445 total yards.
“We had our chances to make it a more closely contested game but then we made mental mistakes,” Milanovich said. “There was a lot of talk about the guys Calgary was missing . . . . but they always seem to have the talent to bring in.”
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray finished 28-of-36 passing for 291 yards after throwing for 407 yards and three TDs against Saskatchewan. Chad Owens had his second 100-yard receiving game with nine catches for 102 yards.
“It was a win for their defence,” Ray said. “Rich (Stampeders defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler) mixed it up – a lot of zone coverage and they kept us in front of them.
“They hit hard and it definitely threw us off our rhythm. We weren’t able to capitalize and only got field goals.”
A fact not lost upon Mitchell.
“Seven is better than three, I know that,” he said. “It’s not easy to stop that man, Ricky Ray is a guy who will slice and dice you.
“Our guys did a great job tonight of making sure they were in the right spot and holding them.”