TORONTO – McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s first career CFL start at quarterback got off to a rough start, which made the fairy-tale ending all the more sweeter.
With Toronto trailing all night long, by as many as 24 points in the second half, the 30-year-old lobbed a 23-yard touchdown pass with one second left on the clock to lift Toronto to an exhilarating 42-41 win over Ottawa on Thursday night.
“I really want to thank my teammates, they helped me out the whole game,” Bethel-Thompson said. “They carried me the whole way.”
The former Sacramento quarterback was handed the keys to the Argos offence earlier this week after starting the year as a third stringer. But after Ricky Ray went down with a serious neck injury and James Franklin lost his third straight game at the helm, head coach Marc Trestman gave the California native his first CFL start against the division leading REDBLACKS at home on Thursday.
“We needed this one,” he said. “Nobody likes starting 1-5, there was no giving up… we have a special group.”
It took time for Bethel-Thompson to settle in with the offence. Ottawa scored early and often in the first half, and despite some help from the special teams and defence, the Argos’ offence could not keep pace. After falling behind 38-14, Bethel-Thompson kickstarted the comeback in the third quarter with 78 yards through the air on a touchdown drive capped off by Franklin’s sneak into the end zone.
He then led another touchdown drive shortly thereafter, finding S.J. Green in the end zone to bring the deficit down to 12. Bethel-Thompson found his most powerful spark with Green throughout the evening, as the two connected for 134 yards and two passing touchdowns.
As the second half wore on, the REDBLACKS had an increasing amount of trouble stopping Bethel-Thompson. When Martese. Jackson gave him prime field position after a 70-yard punt return, he found James Wilder Jr. on the first play from scrimmage for a much-needed quick-strike touchdown from 20 yards out.
“I think i stopped shooting myself in the foot,” he said of his improvement after halftime. “We all had self inflicted wounds (in the first half).”
While he may have been on fire, the job wasn’t done yet. Tasked with driving the ball the length of the field in the final minute, Bethel-Thompson handled the final drive with the poise and execution of a seasoned CFL pro. Converting on a third down and offering precision passing to enable his wide receivers to get the job done, Bethel-Thompson advanced the ball inside the red zone.
His final play of the game did not begin smoothly, as Bethel-Thompson had to scramble out of the pocket to extend the play. But he escaped the pressure and threw up a prayer to Armanti Edwards, who caught the ball at the edge of the end zone to give the Argos their first lead of the night, 42-41, with one second remaining.
“We believed,”he said. “From top to bottom, it was a team effort.”
Bethel-Thompson now has two weeks to learn his new offence and prepare for the B.C. Lions, who visit Toronto on Aug. 18 after the Argos’ Week 9 bye. After his four touchdown performance, however, Bethel-Thompson was not entirely satisfied.
“I can get better,” he said. “I’ll be back in here tomorrow ready to work.”