The 8-3 Bombers were asked all week whether a game against the struggling 2-9 Toronto Argonauts in the lulling confines of the Rogers Center could be dangerous for the CFL-leading team trying to hang on to possession of the East division.
It turned into the ultimate trap game for the Bombers and a sweet turn of fortunes for the Argos.
Kicker Noel Prefontaine’s missed field goal with 23 seconds remaining gave Toronto the single point needed to upset Winnipeg 25-24, a fitting finish to a wildly peculiar game.
Suffering their first loss to a conference opponent this year wasn’t the worst news of the night for the Bombers, as several key Bombers left the game with injuries. They lost running backs Fred Reid and Carl Volny, along with defensive end Doug Brown, quarterback Buck Pierce and his backup Alex Brink too.
It certainly wasn’t t the redemption game Steven Jyles may have envisioned either, in his third start as the Argos’ quarterback and his first versus his old team since Winnipeg traded him away in the off-season. He did run for a touchdown and passed for one as well. But he completed 11 of his 20 passes for 88 yards and threw three interceptions. He also suffered a minor stinger in his throwing arm and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Dalton Bell.
“For us to pull off a close game was huge for us and adds a lot to our club,” said Jyles. “We made mistakes offensively, but we still got the win.”
The Bombers got on the board first, as Jyles’ very first pass of the game was picked off by defensive back Jovon Johnson, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
Jyles answered back instantly with his first running touchdown as an Argo. Then Prefontaine’s 54-yard punt bounced into touch for a single point. Jyles then threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to slotback Chad Rempel in the second quarter, and the Argos were up 15-7.
The Bombers then added a strange seven points as Argos linebacker Jason Pottinger forced a fumble on Volny, which Bombers offensive lineman Glenn January recovered in the end zone to make it 15-14.
A second-quarter field-goal attempt turned bad for the Argos and turned into an interception. Grant Shaw mishandled the snap and didn’t get it in place in time for Prefontaine to kick it, so Shaw tossed a lateral to Prefontaine, who tried passing it toward the end zone, but it was intercepted by defensive back Jonathan Hefney.
The Bombers pulled ahead briefly in the third quarter with a field goal by Justin Palardy, but the Argos regained the lead with a strange but thrilling play.
Brink, in for Pierce who re-aggravated a rib injury he had suffered last week, made a pass to receiver Terrence Edwards, which Argos safety Willie Pile stripped. Linebacker Jeremy Unertl picked it up and carried it 12 yards before tossing it to cornerback Evan McCollough, who ran it 60 yards for the touchdown.
Argos linebacker Anthony Cannon then blocked a Bombers punt, which bizarrely bounced into the end zone and gave Toronto a safety.
Brink then suffered an injury and had to leave the game. Winnipeg had no choice but to turn to inexperienced third-string quarterback Justin Goltz in the fourth quarter, who threw up a long ball toward the end zone, and slotback Clarence Denmark grabbed one of the most jaw-dropping touchdown catches of the year to tie the game 24-24.
Then Prefontaine’s missed field goal put Toronto up 25-24, and defensive end Claude Wroten sealed the victory by sacking Goltz at the buzzer to end the game.
The Argos defence was outstanding. They had four sacks by defensive linemen. Ricky Foley had two, while Kevin Huntley, and Wroten had singles. Willie Pile had two forced fumbles, while cornerbacks Sean Smalls and Byron Parker each had interceptions. Lin-J Shell lead the way with 10 tackles, while defensive end Ronald Flemons batted down two passes.
Linebacker Ejiro Kuale, who had went so far as to say Toronto’s defence made a huge statement and guaranteed victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next week.
“We made a statement this game. The league says we’ve got the worst defence, but we’ve got the hardest-hitting defence,” said Kuale. “We’re here to stay, and we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
The way Jim Barker sees it, the “karma Gods” evened things out on Saturday night in Toronto as the last-place Argos improved to 3-9.
“When you win a game and you’ve had the kind of year we’ve had, and you beat the best team in the league, and you have the worst record, you take it anyway you can get it.”