TORONTO — Just about everything went right for the Double Blue on Thursday night.
Swayze Waters is likely more confident than he’s ever been, following a golden five-for-five performance that included a season-long 52-yard field goal to win the game on the final play.
Chad Owens broke Pinball’s pro football record of all-purpose yards in a single season.
A healthy and explosive Dontrelle Inman had a massive game returning from injury, and will seemingly give the Argos’ receiving corps a major boost.
A rewarding victory
“It’s what we talked about all week. When you put on that blue helmet, you play to win. There were no excuses, we didn’t care who was in, we didn’t care who was out — we expect the guys to execute and we did just enough to win.”
– Argonauts Head Coach Scott Milanovich
Jarious Jackson provided a quality start, while youngsters Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris each showed poise and command of the offence.
And perhaps best of all, Ricky Ray continues to get healthier, without having to even lift a finger in a season finale that saw the Argos eliminate their division rival from playoff contention.
For good reason, rookie head coach Scott Milanovich was all smiles in the post-game press conference.
“It’s what we talked about all week,” said Milanovich, who is set to enter is first post-season as a head coach. “When you put on that blue helmet, you play to win,”
“There were no excuses, we didn’t care who was in, we didn’t care who was out,” he continued. “We expect the guys to execute and we did just enough to win.”
More than a week ahead of the team’s opening playoff game, the Eastern Semi-Final at Rogers Centre on Nov. 11, the focus coming in was to get some of the players who have been a little bit dinged up, rested.
The likes of Ray, Chad Kackert, and Andre Durie, along with eight other starters were all given the night off, opening the door for others to get a rare chance to play in a meaningful game against a team bringing its all.
The three quarterbacks behind Ray on the depth chart may have been the biggest beneficiaries.
In his fourth start of the season, Jackson was strong in first quarter action, pacing the Boatmen to a 20-3 lead with some help from a defensive touchdown by Jordan Younger on a pick-six. Jackson completed four of his five passes for 92 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown strike to Inman.
After Harris left the game in the third quarter with 77 yards on 7-14 passing, Collaros entered the equation in a big way, completing seven of 11 passing attempts for a team-high 101 yards and a touchdown, while also adding 17 yards on the ground.
Milanovich said given the few reps his quarterbacks each received in practice, they looked good.
“I thought they were very poised,” said Milanovich. “They missed a few things and there are some things they can improve on, just really running the offence and getting plays called and things like that.”
“But it was impressive to see that the moment wasn’t bigger than them.”
While deciding who would sit and who would play was quite simple in most instances, it wasn’t so cut-and-dried for one player.
Owens may have been the leading Argo, and possibly in the entire league this season, when it comes to taking punishment. In most instances sitting the dynamic receiver and special teams dynamo out would’ve been a no-brainer, but with the record at stake, Milanovich said he couldn’t keep him out of the lineup.
“I didn’t really want to play him, but ultimately, this is a big record,” Milanovich explained following the game. “There was no way I could take the opportunity away from him to make history.”
“I’m not a record guy but I wanted this for Chad, I felt like he deserved it and he earned it, and I’m really proud of him tonight.”
Owens broke the record with a 29-yard kickoff return against Hamilton midway through the second quarter.
The game was stopped as Owens was congratulated by Pinball and Commissioner Mark Cohon, with the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s family on hand – who Owens was quick to credit for such a successful career in the CFL.
“All of the sacrifices they’ve made over the course of my career, packing and moving from Hawaii to the east coast and back and back and back, it’s just a really good feeling,” said Owens.
“It wasn’t just for me it was for them, knowing what they’ve been through. And my son, he wanted me to get that record, and I know he’s proud of me.”
Having Michael “Pinball” Clemons on hand made the honour all the more special. Owens said he wasn’t surprised by Pinball’s reaction to the record, and added that the former Argo has been his biggest fan the whole way.
“A lot of times when we do talk it’s not about football, it’s about life, it’s about family, and those are the characteristics that I try to take from him, the off the field stuff,” said Owens of his friendship with Pinball.
“This record wasn’t about beating Pinball’s record, it was about just showing what hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and passion can do for you if you’re fortunate enough to get the opportunity.”
It’s the opportunity the Argos gave him a few years ago that he’ll never forget. “That’s why I’m so thankful – four years ago I was out of football, and I got the chance to come up here and live out my dream,” Owens continued. “As soon as I got to Toronto things started falling into place, and I’m just very thankful for that.”
The momentum game
Anyone who’s been around the game long enough, at any level in any league, will tell you that heading into the playoffs, nothing from the past matters anymore.
What matters is who’s playing the best football going in, and that’s something the Argos can say they’ve done over the last two weeks.
“We’re playing better there’s no doubt about that,” said Milanovich. “I think we’ve got our confidence back and there’s nothing more important than that.”
“If you’ve got a great quarterback and you’ve got some confidence, you’ve got a chance to win, and I think that’s how our guys are feeling right now.”
The Argos’ path to the Grey Cup won’t be easy, but at least it’s clear. If they want to hold the coveted trophy, they’ll have to win in Toronto, before traveling to play the Alouettes at Olympic Stadium in Montreal in front of likely 55,000 screaming fans.
Should they win that, they’ll return home to play in the 100th Grey Cup at the Rogers Centre. That means no more braving the elements for the Argos, although Owens said it’s not something that’s on the team’s mind, anyway.
“Playoff time is not the time to look at where you’re playing, and the things that you can’t control,” he said. “I’m just happy that we’re in the playoffs and we’ve got a home game, and it’s just great for our fans.”
“We’ve got to come in here with unbelievable focus and work to get to our goal.”
The Argos await the result of two more games this weekend to determine who they’ll be playing against. As of now, it appears the likely opponent will be the Eskimos – unless the Eskimos win against Calgary and the Roughriders lose in BC, which would result in the Roughriders heading east.