November 5, 2006

Argos win Scotiabank East Semi-Final

TORONTO (CP) – An unlikely hero grabbed the Toronto Argonauts from the depths of despair Sunday.

Backup quarterback Michael Bishop came off the bench to throw two fourth-quarter TD passes and rally the Argos to an unlikely 31-27 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the East Division semifinal.

“As a backup quarterback you never know when you’re going to have an opportunity,” Bishop said. “I have to be hot when I come in and I was today.”

Bishop came in with Winnipeg riding a huge wave of momentum after turning a 14-6 half-time deficit into a 27-17 lead. But on his first play, Bishop hit Arland Bruce III on a 68-yard TD pass at 7:26. Then, after Toronto’s Jordan Younger recovered a Charles Roberts fumble at the Winnipeg 34, Bishop threw a 15-yard strike to R. Jay Soward at 9:11 for the 31-27 lead, thrilling the loud but disappointing Rogers Centre gathering of 26,214.

The Argos had been hoping for as many as 40,000 fans.

Winnipeg quarterback Kevin Glenn drove the Bombers to the Toronto 31-yard line with under a minute left. But Argos safety Orlando Steinauer cemented the victory with an interception at the 22-yard line with 44 seconds remaining.

Toronto now meets the Montreal Alouettes in the East final for the fifth straight year. The Als beat the Argos 24-20 last weekend to clinch first and home field for the division championship.

“We felt we should’ve beat them last week,” said Argos running back Ricky Williams, who rushed for 40 yards on six carries. “I’m sure they have something for us but we’ll have something for them.”

The fourth-quarter heroics were indeed timely for Bishop, especially after Damon Allen’s inability to convert a third-and-short attempt in the third helped open the door for the Bombers’ 14-point outburst that put them ahead 20-14 heading into the fourth.

The six-foot-two, 215-pound Bishop spent most of this season as Toronto’s short-yardage quarterback following his return in August from the Arena Football League’s Chicago Rush. Two years ago, though, he stepped in when Allen missed eight weeks with a broken leg and kept the Argos in playoff contention en route to their Grey Cup championship.

Toronto put Bishop in to try and change things up. Allen was 15-of-28 passing for 219 yards with a touchdown and interception, but Toronto head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons felt Winnipeg’s defence had settled into a rhythm against Allen. So, the decision was made to throw the Bombers a curve with Bishop, who finished 3-of-5 passing for 110 yards and the two TDs.

“They have different strengths and so the way Michael attacks a defence is different from the way Damon does,” Clemons said. “Sometimes it’s a game like this that really helps to build momentum.”

However, Allen will start against Montreal.

Williams said Bishop gave the Argos offence a huge boost.

“He’s probably the best athlete on the team,” Williams said. “So when he gets into the game I think people get excited because of his athletic ability.”

The fumble was the lone blemish on an outstanding effort by Roberts. The East nominee for the CFL’s outstanding player award ran for 179 yards on 30 carries scored two third-quarter TDs.

“It was a clean strip but I really didn’t have control of the ball from the handoff,” Roberts said. “It probably wasn’t smart but I tried to fight for yards instead of going down.

“It’s unfortunate that we – I mean, I – turned the ball over. Once you’ve got the lead you’ve got to hold on to the ball.”

The loss was a bitter end to a promising season for Winnipeg, which posted a 9-9 record under rookie head coach Doug Berry and had a shot at second in the East up to the final week of the regular season. The Bombers missed the playoffs last year with a dismal 5-13-0 mark.

“We made tremendous strides this year,” Berry said. “But we’re not the team we need to be.

“Football is a game of momentum and when you have it you need to hold it. We were unable to do that and Toronto got it back and did some great things.”

Winnipeg also got a heroic performance from Glenn, who was 12-of-22 passing for 224 yards with two TDs despite playing on a left ankle he sprained in last week’s 26-16 loss to B.C.

“Every game is like climbing a mountain,” Glenn said. “Toronto was going up as we were coming down.”

Toronto did everything to keep Winnipeg in the game.

The Argos had several good scoring chances in the first half, but could only muster one touchdown. And two terrible plays in the third opened the door for Winnipeg.

The first was Bishop’s failure to convert on third-and-short, which gave Winnipeg the ball at centre field. The Bombers didn’t score, but punter Troy Westwood unleashed a 62-yard boot that took Toronto’s Keith Stokes into the end zone. Instead of giving up the single, Stokes ran it out but was tackled at three-yard line.

Toronto subsequently punted, giving Winnipeg possession at the Argos’ 43-yard line and setting up Roberts’ one-yard run at 11:29.

On Winnipeg’s next series, Glen hit Milt Stegall on a 60-yard completion to the Toronto 11-yard line. Roberts took it the distance on the next play, giving Winnipeg a 20-14 lead at 13:56.

Glenn’s 27-yard TD strike to Chris Brazzell at 3:56 of the fourth put Winnipeg ahead 27-17.

“I’ll take responsibility for Keith’s runback because it was something we didn’t go over with him beforehand,” Clemons said. “The third-and-short is something we’ve had a little bit of a challenge with . . . we’ve got to re-evaluate our approach in that situation.”

Michael Palmer scored Toronto’s other touchdown. Noel Prefontaine kicked three field goals, three converts and a single.

Westwood booted three converts and two field goals.

Notes: Prior to Winnipeg’s first offensive play, a message on the Jumbotron reminded fans of Stegall’s critical comments about Toronto’s lack of support of the CFL. Predictably, Stegall was roundly booted . . . Receiver Andrae Thurman, centre Dominic Picard, receiver Kwame Cavil and defensive lineman Cameron Legault didn’t dress for Winnipeg. Miles, defensive backs Jermaine Mays and Dave Donaldson and offensive lineman Cliff Washburn were Toronto’s scratches.