TORONTO — Ricky Ray and Curtis Steele proved to be too much for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Ray threw four TD passes while Steele ran for 92 yards and scored two touchdowns to power the Toronto Argonauts to a 38-21 home win over Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
Ray finished 26-of-33 passing for 297 yards to earn Toronto its second straight victory for a four-point lead atop the East Division. Steele anchored a solid ground attack that recorded 174 yards against a Winnipeg defence playing its second game in five nights.
“It (rushing attack) was big,” Ray said. “They were coming off a short week . . . at the end of the game when it was still tight, for us to be able to run like we did and kind of wear them out really helped us.”
Steele ran 10 times and had a 19-yard touchdown and also added two catches for 27 yards, including a 15-yard TD grab. He platooned with former NFLer Steve Slaton, who added 66 yards rushing but also lost two fumbles.
“We went into the game thinking it was going to be a battle between the lines,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “It was great to be able to run the football like we did.
“We felt like we needed that to win the game.”
Steele, in his second season with Toronto, has been a solid runner with 318 yards on just 35 carries (9.0-yard average) with three TDs. But the Argos can’t move him into the backfield full-time because he’s also a contributor on special teams.
“Man, that’s tough,” Steele said when asked if he’d like more carries. “I’m a valuable player on the special-teams unit and I take pride in that . . . but yeah, I’d like more carries as a running back.
“But I’m OK, I know my role . . . we have a package deal going with me and Steve and I just really try to take advantage of my opportunity.”
However it was sweet redemption for Toronto, which dropped a season-opening 45-21 loss in Winnipeg. And Ray engineered the impressive victory without regular receivers Andre Durie (clavicle), Chad Owens (foot), Jason Barnes (knee), John Chiles (hamstring) and heralded rookie Anthony Coombs (shoulder).
Ray threw to 10 different receivers Tuesday night with newcomer Robert Gill having the most catches (six) and veteran Spencer Watt recording the most yards (56).
“The thing is we’ve been playing together for a few weeks now and it’s really starting to show,” Ray said. “I just feel like our execution has been getting better in practice and guys are getting a little bit more comfortable with each other and we’re able to execute.”
Toronto doesn’t have much time to relish the victory, before an announced season-high Rogers Centre gathering of 18,106. The Argos return to action Sunday night hosting the B.C. Lions. Milanovich said it was important his team build off its 31-5 road win over Montreal on Aug. 1.
However, Milanovich wasn’t pleased the Argos were flagged 17 times for 122 yards in penalties. Winnipeg wasn’t much better, called 14 times for 114 yards in a very chippy contest.
“It’s very difficult particularly when you’re banged up because what you’d love to do is replace guys and send the next guy in but there’s no one to put in,” Milanovich said. “You expect some of that from (new) guys who are playing but I don’t expect that from our veterans and there were a number of them that were our veterans.
“If we continue to do it we’re not going to be a good football team. All I know is to keep coaching it and if someone needs to be replaced we’ll deal with it.”
Winnipeg suffered its second straight loss following a 23-17 home defeat to Saskatchewan on Thursday. The result also spoiled Bombers coach Mike O’Shea’s return to Rogers Centre.
O’Shea spent 16 seasons as a player and coach with Toronto – winning four Grey Cups – before being hired by Winnipeg in the off-season. But O’Shea also was unhappy with how many penalties his team took.
“It’s an easy answer, you don’t want to give up those yards,” he said. “Those hurt you.”
Ray cemented the victory with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Watt that rounded out the scoring at 11:35 of the fourth. Ray put Toronto ahead 28-21 just 58 seconds into the quarter with a 15-yard toss to Steele after Cleyon Laing recovered former Argo Romby Bryant’s fumble at the Winnipeg 49-yard line.
Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy hit Bryant on a 76-yard touchdown pass the very next series but it was negated by a hands-to-the-face penalty on the Bombers. Willy didn’t feel that call was the difference even though Swayze Waters’ 18-yard field goal at 6:51 boosted Toronto’s head to 31-21.
“It’s just one of those plays, you have to rebound better from adversity,” he said. “Anytime you go up against Ricky Ray, you’ve got to put up the yards.”
Neither Willy nor Winnipeg’s defence did that. Willy finished 23-of-31 passing for 193 yards and two TDs despite being sacked five times while the Bombers finished with 232 net yards, compared to 462 yards for Toronto.
“Toronto’s defence is a talented group, I’m not sure how they were coming at me,” Willy said. “There were times I didn’t get the ball out quicker and others when the 12 of us weren’t on the same page.”
Nic Grigbsy’s eight-yard TD run at 6:32 of the third pulled Winnipeg into a 21-21 tie, set up by the Bombers recovering the first Slaton fumble at the Toronto 20-yard line.
Maurice Mann and Zander Robinson also had TDs for Toronto. Waters kicked four converts and a field goal.
Cory Watson and Rory Kohlert had other Winnipeg’s touchdowns. Lirim Hajrullahu added three converts.
Two late Ray TD strikes 1:18 apart anchored a 21-point second-quarter outburst that earned Toronto a 21-14 half-time advantage. Ray hit Robinson with a six-yard touchdown pass at 14:57, set up by a 26-yard Hajrullahu punt that put Toronto at the Winnipeg 43-yard line.
Ray’s 15-yard TD pass to Mann at 13:39 made it 14-14, capping a six-play, 62-yard march. It was a solid answer to Kohlert’s sensational 21-yard touchdown grab at 10:45, set up by Troy Stoudemire’s 61-yard punt return.
Steele made it 7-7 at 3:06 with his 19-yard TD run. Winnipeg took its opening possession 63 yards on six plays, with Willy hitting Watson with an eight–yard scoring strike at 6:06 of the first.