In Arland Bruce III’s mind, there’s no such thing as a bad win.
Bruce’s 37-yard TD catch with 2:47 remaining rallied the Montreal Alouettes to a 23-20 win over a short-handed Toronto Argonauts squad Friday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
“Any time you can go home at night and know you’ve won as a pro athlete, it’s a great feeling,” Bruce said. “If we had been sitting here saying it didn’t mean anything, that’s a co pout and I don’t think any of these guys are looking for a way out.
“I know I’m not and I don’t want anyone around me thinking like that. This is a good win.”
The game had no bearing on the East Division standings as Toronto (11-7) had cemented top spot to secure home-field advantage for the conference final Nov. 17. Montreal (8-10) was already assured of finishing third and will face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in semifinal action next weekend in Guelph, Ont.
So both teams took vastly different approaches to the contest. Montreal, looking to establish much-needed momentum heading into the playoffs, went with all of its starters while Toronto sat 17 regulars, including quarterback Ricky Ray, as backups Zach Collaros, Trevor Harris and Mitchell Gale all played.
But it was Toronto that consistently won the field-position battle and led 19-15 on a conceded safety to start the fourth. Harris erased a 15-11 half-time deficit with an 11-yard TD strike to Darvin Adams at 7:18 of the third but the convert was blocked.
“This is pro football, we get paid to play,” Bruce said. “Whoever is out there, second string or third string they’re not thinking, ‘I’m going to let him do whatever.’
“We’re not even looking who is out there. There’s an opponent out there with a different coloured jersey on. We can’t get caught up in that. Now we have to get prepared to go out on the road — again.”
Montreal quarterback Troy Smith finished 15-of-28 passing for 197 yards with three TDs and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. For the second straight week the former Heisman Trophy winner struggled in the second half — completing 7-of-12 passes for 87 yards — but found an open Bruce to cap a three-play, 71-yard scoring drive, then ran in for two-point convert to give the Als a three-point lead before a Rogers Centre gathering of 22,589.
Toronto was poised to get the ball back with just over a minute remaining but Argo Hugo Lopez was penalized for hitting Montreal punter Burke Dales, allowing the Alouettes to maintain possession and run out the clock.
“As a quarterback you have to have a short memory,” Smith said. “I don’t like throwing interceptions, that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
“Even though we got a win, I harp on things like that and I need not do that next time.”
Montreal interim coach Jim Popp admitted his club played poorly but was buoyed by it’s ability to erase an early 10-point deficit, then rally late for the victory.
“We”ve won here twice this year no matter how people want to look at it,“ Popp said. ”I keep saying it, you need to score 30 points and you’re fortunate when you don’t and still win.
“Bottom line is we won. Two, we came back. Three, we held on to a lead. Those are all positives.”
So is Montreal playoff ready?
“Every game is different,” Popp said. “The way our season has gone, who knows next week?
“We may be playing great, I have no idea.”
Toronto was looking for 12 regular-season wins for the first time since ‘97. A bright spot was running back Jerious Norwood, who ran for 102 yards on eight carries and added four catches for 62 yards despite still adjusting to Canadian football.
“The hardest thing for me is the extra defender,” Norwood said. “You get into the secondary and you have to beat that extra man.”
Harris was Toronto’s most productive quarterback, completing 6-of-9 passes for 110 yards and the TD. John Chiles had four catches for 79 yards.
“It was a hard-played game by both teams,” Argos coach Scott Milanovich said. “Obviously they made more plays at the end to get the win.
“Now we have to focus on being ready for Nov. 17.”
Matt Black had Toronto’s other touchdown. Rookie Quinn Sharp had a tough CFL debut, hitting one-of-two converts and one-of-three field goals with two singles.
Duron Carter and Bo Bowling scored Montreal’s touchdowns. Sean Whyte booted two converts and a single.
Smith’s two second-quarter TD strikes rallied Montreal to a 15-11 half-time advantage. Smith hit Carter, the son of Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter, on a 71-yard touchdown pass at 2:07 to cut Toronto’s lead to 10-7 at 2:07 before Nicolas Boulay recovered Toronto’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
Smith then found Bowling from two yards out at 5:19 to put Montreal ahead 14-10. Whyte, whose miss from 42 yards out was returned 107 yards for the winning TD in last weekend’s 27-24 loss to Hamilton, missed from 39 yards at 12:25 for the single.
Toronto opened the scoring with Black returning a Smith interception 62 yards for the TD at 4:26 of the first. After plunking his first attempt from 28 yards out off the upright, Sharp connected from 42 yards out at 13:18 to put the Argos ahead 10-0.
Montreal lost linebacker Juries Hebert, defensive backs Geoff Tisdale and Byron Parker and running back Terrell Sutton all to injury. Popp said he didn’t think any of the players would miss the conference semifinal.
Notes: Prior to the game, former CFL star quarterback Russ Jackson helped swear in approximately 100 new Canadians . . . . Montreal’s Chip Cox registered his club-record 111th tackle of the season with a sack on Toronto’s opening possession . . . Among the Argos who didn’t dress were slotback Andre Durie and linebacker Robert McCune. Durie will finish 14 yards shy of his first career 1,000-yard season while McCune ended up one tackle short of 100 . . . The Alouettes have qualified for the CFL playoffs in 18 straight years, the league’s longest current streak. Toronto is in the post-season for the third time in four seasons . . . Ray is just two completions short of becoming the most accurate passer in CFL history. Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson holds that distinction at 67.534 per cent while Ray is at 67.524 per cent.