REGINA — The Toronto Argonauts weren’t enjoying the scenic route to the CFL playoffs.
On Saturday afternoon, Ricky Ray slammed on the accelerator and finally got them to their destination.
The Toronto quarterback threw four touchdown passes — as the Argonauts clinched both a playoff spot and second place in the East Division with a 31-26 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“For more than just myself, for us as a unit to get this win and to be in the playoffs it’s going to boost our confidence,” said Ray, who completed 24-of-30 passes for 305 yards.
“We hadn’t played well the last couple months. We were just letting opportunities slip out of our hands, and it was nice to come in here and take advantage of this opportunity where we win, we get in.”
Already assured of a playoff spot, the loss was the third straight for Saskatchewan. The Riders sit third in the West Division but will drop to fourth if the Edmonton Eskimos beat the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday.
The Argos were under pressure after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers earlier in the day. That result kept the possibility alive of Hamilton overtaking Toronto for second.
The Argonauts also entered the game tied with Edmonton who were last in the West Division but own the tiebreaker with Toronto and had the inside track on a crossover playoff berth. “It’s hard to grasp right now,” said first-year Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich. “It was a big game for us. We obviously hadn’t been playing that well so to come on the road against a good team, in the weather and hostile environment, I was just proud of them.”
Owens’ touchdown — a 60-yard catch-and-run early in the third quarter — put Toronto ahead for good and snuffed out Saskatchewan’s comeback bid after the Roughriders had scored on five straight possessions.
Saskatchewan came within five points of the Argos at the half, scoring on all four second-quarter possessions. Sandro DeAngelis hit field goals from 37, 28 and 36 yards, and rookie tailback Kory Sheets dragged five Toronto defenders with him across the goal-line to complete a 24-yard scoring run.
But when the Riders needed points the most DeAngelis was nowhere to be found. He missed second-half field goals from 17 and 43 yards, and Ray answered back with the game-clinching deep ball to Owens.
“There’s no consolation in the fact that this was quote-unquote nothing game for us,” said DeAngelis. “When the scoreboard comes on, you play to win and I don’t care whether you’re playing a pre-season game or playing a game at the end just to finish out the year.
“I blew it. I didn’t do my part today and that hurts. As pro athletes we’re perfectionists. You want to win every time you step on the field … and, like I said, I let the guys down. They played their asses off.”
Ray was front-and-centre in the first quarter, sandwiching an interception between TD throws to Durie and Owens. The Riders, by contrast, opened with three straight two-and-outs and took over 13 minutes to secure their initial first down.
Ray also kept the Riders’ second-quarter rally somewhat at bay with his second seven-yard TD toss of the game to Durie.
Toronto kicker Swazye Waters was good from 29 yards on his only field goal attempt for the final score of the game.
Owens finished with 104 yards receiving and 74 more return yards, leaving him 106 yards short of Michael (Pinball) Clemons’ CFL record for combined yards in a season.
“Of course there were tense moments, but I think the third quarter was the biggest quarter for us,” said Ray. “They only scored one field goal with the wind so that was a huge quarter.
“I felt confident that if we could go into the fourth quarter with the lead we’d have a good chance to win this football game and we were able to do that.”
In the fourth, Darian Durant hit Weston Dressler in the end zone with a 10-yard pass, set up by a 42-yard run from Sheets, to make it 28-26 for Toronto and cap the Riders’ scoring.
Durant went 24-for-38 for 252 yards with one late-game interception.