The Toronto Argonauts acquired Ricky Ray to get them to a Grey Cup game on home turf and now they can say “mission accomplished.”
A masterful Ray passed for 399 yards and dominated the ground game as well as the Argonauts stunned the Montreal Alouettes 27-20 in the CFL East Division final before 50,122 at Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“He took some big hits and hung in there,” coach Scott Milanovich said of his veteran quarterback. “I thought he played a tremendous football game, but that’s what he’s here for.
“That’s why he’s the one we wanted.”
The Argonauts reached the CFL championship game for the first time since 2004, when they won their 15th Grey Cup with a victory over B.C.
The game next Sunday against the West Division champion Calgary Stampeders will be played at Rogers Centre, the Argonauts’ home field. They last won a Grey Cup at home in 1952, lost one in Toronto in 1982 and now they’re home again in 2012 — each time exactly 30 years apart.
“It’s been a long season for us but we’ve stuck together and just played it one game at a time,” said Ray, acquired last winter in a trade from the Edmonton Eskimos. “Now we’ve got the opportunity to do what we set out to do.”
Ray threw a touchdown pass to Dontrelle Inman and Chad Kackert scored on a long touchdown run. Swayze Waters added three field goals for Toronto, which had lost to Montreal in three previous East final meetings.
Chris Jennings and backup quarterback Adrian McPherson had touchdowns for Montreal. Sean Whyte added two field goals.
But the Alouettes could muster only three second-half points, as Anthony Calvillo was picked off twice by Marcus Ball and saw another pass pulled out of the hands of Eric Deslauriers by Pacino Horne that was ruled a fumble.
“The game’s over, but you start thinking about the plays that might have made a difference,” said Calvillo. “For me there’s three — the two interceptions and one ball I missed on Jamel (Richardson) early in the third quarter.
“Those are the plays that are going to eat at me. I feel bad for everyone in this room. We all fought hard to get that first round bye and we wasted a great opportunity.”
The Argonauts star players shone and while Montreal’s had their moments, top receivers Richardson and S.J. Green caught only five passes between them.
CFL receiving leader Chad Owens piled up 207 receiving yards on 11 catches — a Toronto playoff record — and was the main target of the veteran Ray who was throwing strikes from the pocket all afternoon.
With kick returns thrown in, Owens had 346 all-purpose yards.
Kackert carried 13 times for 139 yards.
Montreal coach Marc Trestman said the Argonauts had the edge in all three phases of the game and deserved the win.
Still, the Alouettes had a chance to tie the game with 39 seconds remaining. But Brian Bratton couldn’t hang onto a third-down pass in the end zone that was tipped by Horne.
“He blocked my view and I think he tipped it a bit,” a dejected Bratton aid. “It just changed the trajectory.
“Instead of going in my hands, it went off my hands on the opposite side. I never saw it.”
Some wonder if that will be the last pass ever thrown by Calvillo, but the 40-year-old CFL all-time passing leader said he has not yet decided whether he will play another season.
“It’s hard to think about that right now,” he said.
Milanovich, Toronto’s first-year coach who was offensive co-ordinator in Montreal last season, said this week that turnovers would be key and there were plenty of them — three by the Als and four by the Argos, including two on downs.
Trailing 17-10 at the half, the Argonauts tied the game on their first drive, marching 101 yards on four plays including a 69-yard toss to Owens that was stopped at the two with a desperate tackle from Dwight Anderson. Ray hit Inman with a TD pass.
Ball then picked off a Calvillo pass and four plays later, Kackert ran 49 yards straight up the middle for another TD and a 24-17 lead.
A Chip Cox run on a fake punt kept Montreal’s drive alive for a field goal, but the Argos answered with three points of their own.
There was no gloating from Milanovich on beating his former club.
“Montreal’s been on top of the East for how many years and if you’re going to the Grey Cup, it’s fitting that you take out the team that has been on top,” he said. “I respect those guys.
“I have a lot of friends over there. I know it’s tough for them, but I’m just proud of our team.”
Trestman congratulated his former top assistant.
“Now that the game is over I couldn’t be more excited for Scott,” he said. “He and his team are well deserving of winning the game and we wish them the best of luck next week. They’ll be a great representative for the east.”
It was a second year in a row since winning Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010 that Montreal has lost their playoff game at home.
Missed opportunities by Toronto and a tight Montreal defence in the red zone marked a tentative first half.
Toronto coughed up the ball on its first two possessions to give Montreal a 10-0 lead.
A Kackert fumble was recovered by Ollie Ogbu on the Alouettes’ 46 and was converted to Whyte’s 25-yard field goal.
Montreal pounded the ball up the middle after taking over on a turnover on downs, capped by Jennings’ 18-yard TD run at 11:03.
Ray responded with a long drive highlighted by Maurice Mann’s 32-yard catch. Waters would split the uprights from 22 yards out.
After a punt single, Ray marched the ball to the Montreal one. But the Argonauts sent in backup quarterback Jarious Jackson and he failed to punch in the ball on three tries and Toronto gave it up on downs.
The sequence produced a safety, however, and Toronto picked up another single on their next set of downs to make it 10-7.
Calvillo hit Richardson with a 49-yard pass as Montreal struck right back with McPherson’s one-yard TD plunge, and Toronto settled for a field goal with the final drive of the first half after failing to score from the five.
The crowd went silent early in the fourth quarter when linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette was injured on a kickoff return and lay motionless on the field.
Players on both teams knelt on the field as the Montreal native was taken away on a stretcher. There was no immediate word on his condition.
Trestman said he had a concussion but “it looks like he’ll be fine.”
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