TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts came out on top of an exciting back-and-forth game with the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Monday night, winning 27-24.
Lirim Hajrullahu kicked a 34-yard field goal on the game’s final play while Ricky Ray threw for 367 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 40-for-55 passing, leading the Boatmen to a key divisional win in a rare Monday clash at BMO Field.
Fullback Declan Cross scored his first career touchdown and Anthony Coombs hauled in another, while Ray continued his aerial assault early in 2017 with his fifth straight 300-yard game to open the season.
The win moves the Argos to 3-2, putting them in sole possession of first place in the East.
The opening offensive drive for the Argos started out strong, with an explosive play right out of the gate from running back Coombs. Coombs took a short reception up the left sideline and showcased his speed with a 26-yard catch and run. Coombs would finish the game with 82 total yards.
The quick-start drive led to a 47-yard field goal by kicker Hajrullahu, giving the Argos the early 3-0 lead.
The defences for both teams looked formidable early on. Both quarterbacks appeared to find it difficult moving the ball downfield, facing consistent pressure from the opposing defensive lines.
In an attempt to evade the pass rush in the first quarter, REDBLACKS quarterback Trevor Harris made an effort to scramble for the first down. Argonauts defensive end Victor Butler forced a turnover on the play when he hit the Ottawa pivot and knocked the ball loose. Butler would end up leaving the game in the first half with an injury.
The Argos’ passing game started to click in the second quarter, when quarterback Ray found receiver Armanti Edwards down the middle of the field for 33 yards. Ray connected with fullback Declan Cross on the next play for the quick touchdown throw, putting Toronto up 10-0. Ray would end up throwing for 367 yards and 2 touchdowns on a staggering 55 pass attempts.
Ottawa got onto the scoreboard after the Ray touchdown, when REDBLACKS kicker Brett Maher missed a 54-yard field goal attempt and sent the ball through the end zone for a single point.
Harris continued to face major pressure every time he tried to find a receiver in the opening half. The first sack of the game came late in the second quarter when Toronto defensive end Cleyon Laing brought Harris down to the turf for a loss of seven yards. The defensive stop led to Ottawa taking a safety on the ensuing play, increasing the Argos’ lead to 12-1.
The biggest offensive drive in the first half for the REDBLACKS came when running back William Powell cut it back and found daylight for a 22-yard run, setting his team up in the red zone. Harris found his receiver Brad Sinopoli for the touchdown two plays later, before adding the convert through the air to bring the score to 12-9.
Ottawa suffered a scare as time expired in the first half, when Harris took a sack from Shawn Lemon and lost the football for the second time. Harris was slow getting up, leaving the field with his helmet off. Fortunately for the REDBLACKS, Harris returned without missing a play after the half. But Laing was injured for Toronto after recovering the fumble.
Toronto came out firing in the second half, with Ray finding the speedy Edwards once again for 27 yards. The promising drive stalled after that, leading to a single point after a Hajrullahu field-goal attempt went wide to the right and through the end zone. Hajrullahu added two more scores in the third quarter after that, punting the ball for a single point and making another 47-yard field goal to bring the score to 17-9.
The REDBLACKS began to storm their way downfield in a hurry at the start of the fourth quarter, and Harris set his team up in the red zone after connecting with receiver Joshua Stangby for 20 yards. Stangby followed his big catch with a 15-yard rushing score, and a successful two-point convert from Mossis Madu Jr. tied the game at 17-17.
The Argos’ defence forced another turnover when linebacker Marcus Ball made a brilliant read on a Harris throw and picked it off over the middle. Toronto running back James Wilder Jr. began to churn out tough yardage after the turnover, dragging tacklers with him up the middle of the field.
Wilder’s physical running set up another Ray touchdown pass. Ray found a wide-open Coombs for the 8-yard touchdown, putting the Argos back on top 24-17.
The REDBLACKS came back once again when Harris struck with another touchdown pass. Receiver Greg Ellingson had been relatively quiet on the night until Harris found him in the end zone for an impressive 31-yard touchdown. Maher successfully kicked the convert, tying the game back up at 24-24.
Just when the game appeared destined for overtime, Ray led his team down the field with just seconds remaining to set Hajrullahu up for a successful 34-yard field goal to claim victory.
A crowd of 15,801 fans took in the game as the Argos honoured the 1996 and 1997 Grey Cup-winning teams with Doug Flutie, Pinball Clemons and several others in attendance for a halftime ceremony.
The Argonauts will be on the road next week to take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday evening, while the REDBLACKS will have a week off before they host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at home on Aug. 4.
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