Ricky Ray will have plenty of time to savour the first 500-yard passing performance of his CFL career.
Ray completed 39-of-45 passes — including a club-record 21 straight — for 505 yards and three TDs as the Toronto Argonauts clinched first in the East Division with a 36-21 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night.
Toronto (11-6) will finish the regular season hosting the Montreal Alouettes next Friday night and head coach Scott Milanovich said Ray won’t dress for that contest. That means Ray’s next game for the defending Grey Cup champions will be Nov. 17 in the East final at Rogers Centre.
“I can tell you right now Ricky Ray will not be playing next week,” Milanovich said emphatically. “He’ll be standing beside me on the sidelines without gear on, we can end the speculation right now.”
Milanovich’s decision also means Ray will finish the season with a 77.7 per cent completion average, breaking the CFL single-season mark of 73.98 per cent held by Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson. Predictably, the humble Ray downplayed the career performance.
“It was just one of those nights we had a lot of opportunities to make plays and were able to finish most of them,” Ray said. “But we left a lot out there, we had a couple of turnovers and I missed Chad Owens on an easy touchdown.
“We still have a lot of things to clean up.”
Discipline is certainly one of them as Toronto was flagged 14 times for 139 yards. Winnipeg wasn’t much better with 12 penalties for 95 yards in a very chippy affair that saw both teams penalized often for vicious hits on a night when players, coaches and officials all had pink-coloured apparel as part of the CFL’s initiative to bring awareness to women’s cancers.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” Milanovich said. “To win a game with that many penalties just isn’t going to happen very often.
“If we keep having the penalties we had tonight we won’t go far in November.”
Winnipeg coach Tim Burke wasn’t pleased with all the penalties either, saying he’ll be addressing it with his team.
“There is going to be some light pocketbooks this week,” he said. “I chalk it up to being unable to control your emotions.
“Football is an emotional game but you have to be able to control your emotions.”
Ray broke the Argos record of 19 straight completions in the third and finished one short of the CFL mark when he threw an incompletion to running back Chad Kackert, back after missing two games with a shoulder injury. But Argos receivers Jason Barnes and Andre Durie both lost fumbles deep in Winnipeg’s zone following big completions by Ray that helped the Bombers (3-14) hang around.
But Ray cemented the win with a 69-yard TD pass to Dontrelle Inman at 12:16 of the fourth. On July 19, Ray set the CFL single-game passing accuracy record by completing 19-of-20 passes in a 35-19 win over Winnipeg before suffering a knee injury.
Toronto finished atop the East Division for the first time since ’07 and just the third time since ‘97. More importantly, the Argos cemented home-field advantage for the conference final by sweeping the home-and-home series with Winnipeg after dropping two straight games to Hamilton.
“This was our goal at the start of the year to get that one playoff game at home and we were able to do it,” Ray said. “There were stumbling blocks along the way but to rebound after the two losses to Hamilton and come back and get two big wins was big for this team.”
Ray’s brilliance before a Rogers Centre gathering of 18,478 overshadowed the nastiness of the contest. But there were some anxious moments in the first half when play was halted as Toronto defensive back Neiko Thorpe was treated for a head injury.
Thorpe was hurt while tackling Winnipeg running back Will Ford. His head was immobilized and he was placed on a backboard, then a stretcher before being carted off the field. He was taken to hospital for examination and released after test results were negative.
Winnipeg, 2-7 on the road this season, was eliminated from playoff contention with last weekend’s 26-20 home loss to Toronto. But Milanovich said his team fed off the criticism it received for not securing a more emphatic victory in Manitoba.
“I don’t think you can measure a team’s will to win and the heart of a champion,” Milanovich said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that are new but make no mistake there’s a lot of champions still on that roster and these guys found a way to win.
“You don’t win 11 games by accident. We’re young on defence, we’ve got eight new starters but I have faith we’re going to get this thing done. I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with this team anytime.”
Toronto boasted two 100-yard receivers in Inman (four catches, 152 yards) and Chad Owens (11 receptions, 105 yards). Kackert also had a solid return with 79 yards rushing on 11 carries and seven catches for 55 yards.
“I thought Kack ran great, it was exactly what I was looking for,” Milanovich said. “He was decisive, he was north and south, he picked a hole and he hit it, he sliced through the defence and brought that burst that we needed.”
Winnipeg quarterback Max Hall finished 17-of-32 passing for 257 yards and two TDs. Wallace Miles was the Bombers’ top receiver with six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought our offence did a pretty good job,” Burke said. “Defensively we didn’t rush the passer very well and we didn’t cover very well . . . that’s why you give up 505 yards.”
For Miles, scoring his first-ever pro TD was a moral victory as it came with his mother, who made the trip from Georgia, in the stands.
“It’s very bittersweet,” he said. “A milestone in my life but it came in a loss.”
Romby Bryant had the other two TDs for Toronto, which improved to 4-4 at home. Swayze Waters booted the converts, four field goals and a single. The other points came on a safety.
Rory Kohlert had the other TD for Winnipeg. Sandro DeAngelis added the converts and two field goals while Mike Renaud kicked a single.
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Notes: Aaron Maybin, a former All-American linebacker at Penn State and 2009 first-round draft pick of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, attended the game as the Argos’ guest. A source told The Canadian Press that Maybin is close to signing with Toronto . . . Receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who had eight catches for 137 yards in his CFL debut last week versus Toronto, was among Winnipeg’s pre-game scratches . . . Slotback Cory Watson played for the Blue Bombers despite missing the team’s flight to Toronto after forgetting to bring his wallet to the airport in Winnipeg. Subsequently, he wasn’t allowed to board the plane . . . Ray celebrated his 34th birthday Wednesday . . . Durie came in as the CFL leader in yards after catch with 685, the most since the league began compiling the stat in 2010 . . . Toronto safety Matt Black was back in the lineup Thursday night.