The Toronto Argonauts may have solidified their grasp on the East Division, but they won’t be taking a breather any time soon.
The Argos (8-4) have caught fire of late, defeating the Stampeders 33-27 last Saturday for their third consecutive road win – a performance that earned quarterback Zach Collaros (offensive) and slotback Andre Durie (Canadian) CFL player-of-the-week awards. Now, the team has travelled north to Edmonton to take on the struggling Eskimos (3-9) on Saturday, in the final regular-season matchup between the teams this year.
“We don’t look at [Edmonton’s] record and think that it’s an indication of what kind of team they are capable of being,” head coach Scott Milanovich said Wednesday via conference call. “They have been in every game this whole year. Our guys realize the CFL season is streaky – you can get hot, you can get cold. There is still a lot of the season left to play.”
After veteran quarterback Ricky Ray suffered a shoulder injury in late August, 25-year-old Collaros stepped in, and has been turning heads ever since.
Collaros has impressed fans and teammates with his on-field success and quick adoption of an offensive leadership role. He completed 25 of 36 pass attempts for 330 yards against the league-leading Stamps (9-3) and has seven touchdowns in his past three games.
“Right now, I’m really focused on what we need to do to win the East,” Collaros said. “It’s not like I’m going out there by myself and winning games. We have a great team offensively, defensively, and in special teams.”
Milanovich said his young quarterback’s energy and emotion has contributed to his on-field success.
“It’s hard for a young player to be a leader, especially at that position, but the team has definitely embraced him and the type of quarterback he can be,” the coach said.
Among those rallying behind Collaros is Durie, who led all Argos receivers with nine receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown while also playing in the backfield in Week 13.
“[Collaros] is a guy that is going to go out there and do whatever he can to extend plays,” Durie said, adding the chemistry is solid between the two.
While the Argos prepare for the coming game still uncertain on the status of receiver Chad Owens (ribs) and running back Chad Kackert (concussion), they won’t be fooled by the Eskimos’ poor season record. Edmonton enters Saturday on a two-game win streak (both over Winnipeg).
“I’ve always thought Edmonton has a great team,” Durie said. “They’ve lost a lot of close games. We’re just going in with the implication that we have to play a great team. We’re going to have to not turn the ball over.”
Argonauts linebackers Marcus Ball and Robert McCune were quiet rookies last year, but have since emerged as vocal leaders on a defence that experienced a dramatic makeover after winning the 2012 Grey Cup. Ball said the trick to stopping the Esks – led by the CFL’s top receiver Fred Stamps (52 catches, 978 yards, nine touchdowns) – lies in the deep-rooted connection his teammates have established with one another.
“We have to trust each other and trust our assignments,” said Ball, who has fit into his new leadership role with ease. “The [Eskimos] are playing really hard right now.”