Another near-perfect performance from Ricky Ray ensured the Toronto Argonauts’ impressive start to the CFL season stayed on course.
The veteran quarterback threw three touchdowns and tied a club record for consecutive completions Sunday as the red-hot Argonauts won their fourth straight, 36-33 over the Edmonton Eskimos.
Ray, who finished the night 30-of-35 for 413 yards, including TD passes to Jason Barnes, John Chiles and Chad Owens against his former team, says his comfort level is a big reason why the numbers have been so staggering.
“It feels like you’re just seeing everything and trusting everything,” said Ray, who has thrown for 851 yards and eight touchdowns in Toronto’s last three victories. “There’s no second guessing or double clutching or worrying about anything. You’re just seeing it and throwing it. That’s a good feeling.”
Ray’s 17 straight completions in the first half tied the Argonauts’ club record set by Mike Rae in 1975 in a game against the Montreal Alouettes.
“When you look at each play individually you feel like you should be able to complete every one,” Ray added. “We’re just in a good stretch right now. There’s going to be some games where I’m not going to complete this many passes.”
Ray came over to Toronto in a lopsided trade with Edmonton prior to last season and was instrumental in helping the Argonauts with the 100th Grey Cup on home turf at Rogers Centre.
“I’ve always thought Ricky was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league,” Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said. “He’s in a system that fits him now with playmakers at receiver and at tailback and now he’s a year into it.
“At this point he’s just hot. He’s always going to be good but at this point he’s just red-hot and things are taking off for him.”
Despite the victory, Milanovich was not happy with his team’s performance in the fourth quarter as the Eskimos cut the Toronto lead late.
“Those guys are not satisfied and clearly we are not happy but I’ll never apologize for a win,” he said. “They played well. We give them credit but we had a chance to put that thing away and we didn’t do it.”
Backup quarterback Zach Collaros also threw a TD for Toronto (5-2), which is on its longest winning streak since 2007 and leads the East Division by four points over the second place Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Eskimos (1-6), meanwhile, sit last in the West and have lost their last three games by a combined nine points.
“The loss is very disappointing. Devastating actually,” Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed said. “It’s a lot about details. A lot of things we’re not doing well ... I’m not doing well.
“I have to look at myself in the mirror as to how things have turned out.”
Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly was 35-of-46 for 511 yards and three touchdowns as the Eskimos lost their fifth consecutive game.
“People can talk about the numbers but they should have been higher,” Reilly said. “I missed a couple of throws. Drives stalled. We didn’t play the entire four quarters.”
Grant Shaw added four field goals for Edmonton, which was without injured star linebacker and reigning CFL defensive player of the year J.C. Sherritt.
“If I throw for 100 yards and win I’m happy,” Reilly said. “It doesn’t matter how much it is if we lose.”
Leading 17-16 at the half, Toronto stopped Edmonton on its first drive of the third quarter and stretched its advantage to eight when Ray hit a wide open Chiles with a 31-yard touchdown pass.
“It’s crazy. (Ray’s) accuracy is just amazing,” said Chiles, who finished with five catches for 135 yards. “The way he’s spreading the ball and getting it to all the different receivers, I think he’s doing a great job.”
Edmonton conceded a safety for a 26-16 Argonauts lead with just under five minutes to go in the quarter and Toronto followed that up with an efficient four-play, 64-yard drive that was capped off by a six-yard TD pass from Ray to Owens that made the score 33-16.
Shaw missed a 28-yard field goal for a single point with just over ten minutes to go in the fourth before Reilly connected with Shamawd Chambers on a 22-yard touchdown pass with about five minutes left on the clock to make it 33-23.
After Edmonton’s two-point conversion failed, the Eskimos got the ball back and Shaw kicked a 30-yard field goal to cut Toronto’s lead to seven with two minutes to play.
The Argonauts took the ball on their 35 and Ray found Chiles on a 49-yard pass play to set up Noel Prefontaine’s 26-yard field goal, his second of the night, that effectively killed off Edmonton’s hopes.
Reilly then hooked up with Fred Stamps, who finished with six catches for 172 yards, with one second left on the clock.
Trailing the Eskimos 9-7 in the second quarter, Ray hit Barnes on an eight-yard touchdown pass. Edmonton retook the lead at 16-14 with an impressive six-play, 105-yard drive that spanned just 1:58 and included completions by Reilly of 38 and 45 yards to Stamps and culminated in a five-yard strike to Cary Koch.
The see-saw quarter swung back in favour of the Argonauts with a 20-yard late field goal by Prefontaine to make the score 17-16 at the half. Toronto could have had more but Ray missed a wide open Dontrelle Inman in the end zone to snap his consecutive completions streak at 17.
Toronto took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on third-down gamble when Collaros, who often enters the game on short yardage plays, faked a pitch before dumping the ball off to Alexander Robinson. He rumbled 45 yards for his second touchdown of the season.
Edmonton got the score to 7-6 on a pair of Shaw field goals from 16 and 38 yards before the Eskimos kicker gave his team a two-point edge with his third boot of the night, this time from 40 yards early in the second quarter.
Notes: Owens finished with nine catches for 102 yards. ... Edmonton won both regular season meetings between the teams last season. The Argonauts beat the Eskimos in the East semifinal. ... Chiles has three TDs in his last two games. ... Sherritt recently underwent thumb surgery and is out indefinitely. ... Toronto’s next game is Friday against the Calgary Stampeders (5-2) at Rogers Centre in a rematch of last season’s Grey Cup. ... Edmonton welcomes the West Division-leading Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-1) to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. ... The last time Toronto won four straight was in 2007 when the Argonauts were victorious in their final seven games of the season. ... Attendance at Rogers Centre was 19,656.