Coach Scott Milanovich had a sense that his Toronto Argonauts were ready to have a big game.
Then they went into Percival Molson Stadium and beat the Montreal Alouettes on their home turf.
Ricky Ray threw a pair of touchdown passes to Chad Owens and Toronto’s defence shone as the Argonauts downed the Alouettes 23-20 on Friday night.
”Our guys had an edge tonight, we felt it last night in the meeting room,” said the Argonauts’ first-year coach. ”These guys wanted it.
”We hadn’t played well on the road and we knew we’d have to come in here and really play hard for 60 minutes to get this win because we respect Montreal so much.”
Swayze Waters added three field goals, including two from 50 yards, for Toronto (3-2). The Argos became only the third CFL team after Saskatchewan and Edmonton to win away from home this season.
Part of what had Toronto jacked up was that Milanovich was making his first trip back to Montreal, where he had been Alouettes coach Marc Trestman’s offensive co-ordinator and right-hand man the last four years.
And ex-Als like safety Etienne Boulay were also playing their former team.
”There’s a lot of people (in Montreal) that I care about and always will, but this was about the Argos, about us getting a win. Not about me or anybody else,” said Milanovich.
Brandon London scored a TD and Sean Whyte had four field goals for Montreal (2-3), which has not won on the road and now has consecutive games in Winnipeg and Edmonton.
The crowd of 22,753 saw the Argonauts score on their first two possessions to take the lead. Then both defences came up big in the second half.
Ray passed for 236 yards in the first half, but only 44 the rest of the way. Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo, still looking uncomfortable with a sore left (non-throwing) shoulder, completed 25 passes for 317 yards, but found the end zone only once against Toronto’s league-best pass defence.
The difference in the game may have been two turnovers — an interception by Pat Watkins on Calvillo’s underthrown ball in the end zone late in the first half and Brandon Whitaker’s fumble that killed a drive early in the third quarter.
Penalties also hurt Montreal.
”I think we showed signs of being a very good team tonight,” said Trestman. ”What stands out in my mind is we had a number of big plays negated by penalties, both offensively and defensively.
”We had some sacks that were negated. We had two or three big offensive plays and we went backwards because of penalties. And the turnovers. We had two and they didn’t turn it over at all.”
The Alouettes have been a power in the CFL East since 1996, but now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having a losing record only five games into the season.
”We’re not in a position we’re used to being in,” Calvillo said. ”It’s been a dogfight every week.
”Now the next game I worry about is Winnipeg. They’ve just got their first win at home and it’s always tough there because their crowd is crazy.”
Montreal was also set back by injuries. Trent Guy had 102 yards on three kick returns before leaving with a rib injury. Whitaker was on fire early, but left 10 minutes in with blurred vision in his right eye, although he returned in the second half and ended up with 82 yards on 15 carries.
Toronto’s Cory Boyd was held to 51 yards on 14 attempts.
Still, the Alouettes were in the game in the final minute, but Whyte’s last-second 54-yard field goal attempt fell short.
The Alouettes’ defence got little pressure on Ray and the veteran shredded the home side’s man to man coverage in the opening half.
Whyte had a field goal on Montreal’s opening drive, but Ray answered with a two-play, 70-yard drive — a 38-yard pass to Dontrelle Inman and a 32-yard TD toss to Owens, who got behind Jerald Brown deep in the end zone.
Montreal struck back with a drive capped by a 14-yard scoring pass to London, only to see the Argos come straight back with a march that ended with Owens’ second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard catch and a brief benching for Brown.
Waters added two more field goals in the half.
The Montreal defence got more aggressive to open the second half and the Alouettes had the edge in play, although came out of the third quarter with only Whyte’s 46-yard field goal. After a Montreal single, Waters hit again from the 50 for Toronto, but Whyte answered with a 33-yarder.
The Argos return home to face British Columbia next week feeling they are improving as the season progresses.
”We just can’t seem to put two halves together,” said Milanovich. ”We played very well in the first half and then had breakdowns in the third quarter and let it get close.
”We need to get back to work and find a way to put a full game together.”