TORONTO — One major question mark from the Toronto Argonauts’ pre-season seems to have resolved itself — that’s the strength of the quarterbacks.
Ricky Ray, Trevor Harris and Mitchell Gale all threw touchdown passes for Toronto as the Argos played to a 41-23 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday, the CFL pre-season finale for both teams.
Ray, the Argos’ star QB who set a CFL single-season completion record last year, played less than a quarter but was solid in his first game action this season.
“I felt I was able to see things the way I wanted to,” Ray said. “Last year I played an even shorter period of time (in the pre-season). I feel like things were pretty smooth for the most part, I felt like the speed of the game wasn’t something I had to adjust to, so that was good.
“I feel ready to go.”
Ray completed seven of nine pass attempts for 90 yards and a touchdown. Harris was 8-for-16 for 86 yards, one touchdown and an interception, while Gale was 10-for-11 for 131 yards and one TD.
The game, played in front of a capacity crowd of 5,216 fans at a sun-drenched Varsity Stadium — normally the home to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues — marked the first meeting between the two teams since the Tiger-Cats ended the Argos’ 2013 season, with a 36-24 Eastern Final victory.
It was also the first time Ray and his Argos understudy last season Zach Collaros had faced each other since Collaros was released then signed as a free agent with Hamilton in the off-season.
Collaros, the Tiger-Cats’ most significant off-season acquisition, completed 13 of 18 passes and threw for 196 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s tough not having him here, he’s a good guy, good player,” Ray said of his former teammte. “But it’s also exciting to see him get his chance and play. He played really well tonight and I think he’s going to have a great year.”
Ray missed eight games last season to injury so having a competent quarterback behind him will be important. Harris appears ready to step into that role, with Gale and Casey Pachall waiting in the wings.
The roster deadline for CFL teams is 11:59 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s hard at this point, we’ll have to go back home and watch the film but some guys certainly stepped up and did what they needed to do,” said Argos coach Scott Milanovich. “So we’ll have to see who those guys were and make some decisions (Friday) or Saturday.”
Milanovich was pleased with Gale, receiver Terrell Sinkfield, who caught five passes for 100 yards, running back Jeremiah Johnson, who scored on a 24-yard run, and the entire defensive line.
The Argos had a whopping nine sacks on the night.
“They put some pressure on the quarterback most of the night, and that’s something we’re looking for. It was very good to see,” Milanovich said. “It’s a pre-season game, let’s not overstate what it was, but it was good to see. It was good they were getting after him.”
Argos linebacker Shea Emry spent a good chunk of the first half on the trainer’s table, getting his hip stretched out. He never returned to the game, but said it was just normal tightness that comes from training camp.
Emry enjoyed watching the strong play of the Argos defence from the sidelines.
“That’s our defence, that’s what we expect out of those guys,” he said. “They went out and did their jobs, and the defensive backs were obviously doing their jobs, and it was fun to see those guys flying around.”
The game — the final dress rehearsal for the real deal — had the hard-hitting feeling of a regular-season affair.
“I think some of that comes with momentum when you get a couple of big hits early, especially when you’re getting after the quarterback, it kind of galvanizes the team and gets the blood flowing,” Milanovich said. “There was a lot of jobs on the line tonight, those guys understood it. This is their last chance to prove they deserve to be here.”
Ticats kicker Justin Medlock had two field goals — 40 and 49 yards — and two converts.
The Argos’ Swayze Waters kicked five converts, and Josh Jasper added field goals from 16 and 40 yards for Toronto.
Ray played the first quarter and found Chad Owens over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown at 6:43.
Tavoy Moore fumbled a punt return that bounced into the Ticats’ end zone at 3:17, and Jermaine Gabriel pounced on the ball for a second Toronto TD. The Argos led 14-3 to end the first quarter.
Harris took over and marched the Argos 75 yards, throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to Jason Barnes at 11:08 of the second, and the Argos led 21-6.
Luke Tasker scored Hamilton’s first touchdown 58 seconds before halftime, catching a 48-yard pass from Collaros, and then a two-yarder to score and send the teams into the dressing room with Argos leading 21-13.
The Argos went with Gale in the third, and he threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Darvin Adams at 8:58, putting the home team up 28-13.
With 2:13 left in the third, Johnson had a beautiful 24-yard run for a touchdown, making multiple Tiger-Cats’ defenders miss on his way to the end zone. That put Toronto up 35-13.
Hamilton linebacker Abraham Kromah grabbed a deflected Pachall pass and ran six yards into the end zone to pull the Tiger-Cats to within 35-23 with four minutes to play.
Sinkfield made a spectacular diving catch on a bomb from Pachall with 2:45 left to put Toronto within scoring distance, and Jasper connected on a 16-yard field goal to cap the series.
The Argos were coming off a 24-22 victory over the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg a week earlier.
The Ticats had beaten the Montreal Alouettes 28-23 in the exhibition opener for both those teams last Saturday.
NOTES: The Argos open the 2014 season next Thursday at Winnipeg, while the Ticats are in Saskatchewan on June 29 to battle the Roughriders.