WINNIPEG – Ricky Ray had three touchdowns and completed 19 of 20 passes, as the Toronto Argonauts cruised to an impressive 35-19 road win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field on Friday night.
The win didn't come without concern for the Argos, however, as Ray was forced out of the game in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury, during an exceptional performance in which his only incompletion came on a dropped ball in the first quarter.
Bombers pivot Buck Pierce, meanwhile, missed the entire second half after being rattled on a hit at the end of the second quarter, leaving backup pivots Justin Goltz and Zach Collaros to duel it out the rest of the way.
Pierce got the Bomber offence moving early on the first drive, with completions to Rory Kohlert and Clarence Denmark to move into scoring range inside the opening minute of the game. The drive stalled short of the end zone, but the effort led to a 34-yard field goal from Justin Palardy to give the Bombers a rare first-quarter lead.
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Facing deafening crowd noise on the ensuing drive, Ray quickly got the Argos’ offence to work. The veteran pivot started with a key second-down conversion on a nine-yard completion to Andre Durie, before hitting on consecutive passes to Chad Owens and Jason Barnes to move the Boatmen into Winnipeg territory.
After a 19-yard catch-and-run for running back Chad Kackert took the Argos to the 15, Ray finished it off with a floating pass over the shoulder to Owens, who made an impressive adjustment to come up with the catch.
The touchdown capped off an eight-play, 68-yard drive over 5:18, giving Toronto a 7-3 lead midway through the opening quarter.
Following the early scoring, the defences seemingly settled in as the teams exchanged punts. But late in the first quarter, the Bomber offence got the volume up at Investors Group Field on a deep Pierce completion to Denmark for a 39-yard gain into Argos territory.
But again that Argo defence – while bending – did not break, eventually forcing Palardy to kick his second three-pointer of the night from 31 yards, making it a 7-6 game early in the second quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, a big defensive game would serve as a possible game-changer, as Jamie Robinson used his long reach to grab his first career interception, returning it 47 yards to the Winnipeg 30.
Then, like only the best quarterbacks know how to do, Ray took advantage on the ensuing play, hitting Spencer Watt on a corner route for a 30-yard touchdown pass to put the Argos in front 14-6.
The Boatmen weren’t done there though, again challenging the Blue and Gold vertically. Ray fired to Durie for a 36-yard gain to the Winnipeg seven-yard-line, then completed consecutive passes to newcomer John Chiles and Owens to get to the one.
A 1-yard plunge by Collaros put the quick scoring drive on ice, giving Toronto a 21-6 lead at the completion of the first half. Down by a pair of touchdowns, the Bombers had an uphill climb in the second half, particularly with Pierce not returning to action after taking a hit late in the second quarter.
And after completing 15 of 16 pass attempts in the opening half, Ray wasn't going to make it any easier in the next 30 minutes for the Bombers. The veteran completed three quick passes, including a key second-down conversion to Owens for 25 yards down to the Winnipeg 22.
Then on another second down, with the Bombers having Toronto’s receivers covered downfield, Ray found a seam up the middle and beat the Winnipeg defence with his feet.
The 18-yard touchdown run capped off an efficient eight-play, 80-yard drive, putting the Argos ahead 28-6 to start the second half of the game.
Shortly after moving into third all-time on the CFL completions list, passing Danny McManus, a scary moment occurred for the Argonauts and their star pivot. At the end of a long completion to Durie, Ray was taken down hard to the turf, appearing to be favouring his knee.
He was forced to leave the game and did not return, with Collaros coming in under centre to take his place.
The Argos finished the drive with a field goal, which was matched by a Winnipeg field goal to start the fourth quarter following a punt block by Teague Sherman, recovered by Cauchy Muamba.
With both starters out of the game, neither offence could muster up a lot of production the rest of the way. Chad Simpson scored a late major from a yard out, but it wouldn't be enough as the Argos held their ground en-route to a 35-19 win -- their first of the season away from the Rogers Centre.
While the Bombers failed to come back, Goltz made the most of his opportunity in the second half, completing 13 of 15 pass attempts for 170 yards. Pierce's status for next will is unknown, but the young Goltz may have made enough of an impression to get a better look sooner rather than later.
With the victory, the Argos split the four-way tie in the East Division, now sitting in first place with a record of 2-2. They'll return home to take on the BC Lions on July 30th.
The Bombers, meanwhile, get back at it a week from now, as they search for their first win at Investors Group Field on Friday Night Football against the Calgary Stampeders.