TORONTO — Ricky Ray threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, as a 31-point second quarter paced the Toronto Argonauts to an impressive 42-26 win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday afternoon at the Rogers Centre.
Sparked by a game-changing punt return touchdown by Chad Owens, the Argos will now head to Montreal to take on the Alouettes at Olympic Stadium in the Eastern Final next Sunday.
After Head Coach Kavis Reed put an emphasis on a quick start out of the gate for his offence, Kerry Joseph and the Esks did just that on the game’s opening drive.
The nine-play, 91-yard drive marked the first time this season the Eskimos scored on their first possession, silencing the Rogers Centre gathering just five minutes into the game.
From there the defences started to settle in, and with the Argos offence struggling to move the ball, the Double Blue would get a big play with the final seconds of the first quarter ticking off.
On second-and-two Joseph handed the ball off to former Argonaut Cory Boyd, but the 27-year-old was hit immediately at the line of scrimmage, losing control of the football. Ronald Flemons recovered the loose pigskin, giving the Argos possession at the Edmonton 27-yard-line.
After a close call on an interception that was challenged and reversed in the end zone, Ray took advantage of a second chance and hit Chad Kackert for an 12-yard touchdown on second down, tying the ball game at seven apiece.
Ray’s first touchdown pass of the playoffs capped off an abbreviated five-play drive that took two minutes off the clock.
The momentum soon swung further in the Argos’ direction.
After a quick two-and-out on defence, Grant Shaw punted to Owens from deep in his own end. The East Division’s finalist for Most Outstanding Player caught the ball on the run at the Argos’ 51-yard-line, before weaving through tacklers for a 59-yard punt return touchdown.
It was Owens’ first punt return touchdown in his post-season career, and his first on special teams since Oct. 10, 2011 against Montreal.
Down 14-7, the Eskimos looked to fire back quickly. On a second-down play, Fred Stamps got away from cover man Evan McCullough and Joseph hit him over the top for a 46-yard gain.
But on the very next play, the Argos opportunistic defence struck again, as Marcus Ball jumped an attempted Joseph shovel pass to Charles, returning the interception 53 yards to set the Argos offence up in convenient field position once again.
That gave the Argos a 31-7 lead through 30 minutes, capping off a run of 31 unanswered points. That broke a CFL playoff record for points in a single quarter, breaking a mark of 29 points that was set back on Nov. 10, 1979.
Kackert helps carry Argos to Montreal
Chad Kackert helped lead the Argos offence with 139 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns as the Argos head to Montreal to face the Alouettes next Sunday in the Eastern Final.
Down but not out, the Eskimos turned to young pivot Matt Nichols in the second half, with plenty of time to erase a 24-point deficit and needing a spark on offence.
After a quick Argos two-and-out to start the half, Nichols hooked up with Charles on a 30-yard scamper off a screen pass, eventually setting up a 36-yard field goal from Shaw to make it 31-10.
The Esks would look to keep it going on the next offensive series, but on second and long and facing pressure, Nichols’ pass was overthrown. On the same play things turned worse for the Green and Gold, as the young pivot had his leg rolled on by a crowd of defenders.
Nichols stayed on the turf and needed help off the field by a stretcher as teammates kneeled around him.
The Boatmen went ahead by four scoring plays on the very next drive, after Kackert took a screen pass from Ray for a 28-yard gain, eventually setting up Waters’ second field goal of the game from 38 yards out.
The nine-play, 60-yard drive took 4:45 off the clock, giving the Argos a 35-10 lead with 6:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With their season winding down, Joseph and the Esks battled back in a hurry, thanks to some slick running from the veteran pivot. The 39-year-old first scampered for a 14-yard run on second down, while drawing a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds on Robert McCune.
On the very next play, Joseph found another seam and charged into the end zone from 16 yards out. The veteran made good on the two-point conversion, putting the Green and Gold within 17 points following the quick six-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
But the Eskimos couldn’t make good on the onside kick, giving the Argos excellent field position and a chance to put one final exclamation point on the afternoon.