It was that kind of game. The Toronto Argonauts beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 25-22 Wednesday night on a touchdown pass from Ricky Ray to Jason Barnes with a little over two minutes remaining and there was as much talk afterwards about pass patterns that didn’t bear fruit.
That’s no surprise, given the pedigree of the two men who frankly bear the brunt of reviving CFL football in this city. Ray is the veteran quarterback who has pretty much done it all; Scott Milanovich a first-year head coach who learned from Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman and his venerable quarterback, Anthony Calvillo. You can market the hell out of this team and hook it up with a feel-good Grey Cup anniversary but it won’t matter a damn without a winning product on the field. Milanovich and Ray are the brains of the thing, and Wednesday they had an in-game meeting of the minds.
“First comment he’s made to me in four games,” Milanovich said, after the Argonauts dropped the Bombers to 0-4 with a seat of the pants kind of win in front of an announced crowd of 22,485 at the Rogers Centre.
Ray, who finished 23 of 34 for 325 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, thought he detected a tendency in the Bombers coverage that – to cut through the football gobbledygook – might spring Barnes if he used a stutter-step off the line of scrimmage. “Two drives later we ran it and it would have worked had we been able to hold the play a little longer,” said Milanovich. As it was the pass to Barnes was something Milanovich had put in during a short week of preparation – “one of the few plays,” he said, knowing his team had played and lost to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats just 72 hours earlier – that turned into the winning TD. “Drew it up in the dirt,” Barnes said later.
Milanovich called it “taking ownership,” and the sense here is that even though it was a modest win on a night that promised modest returns from the start, it was nonetheless something of significance.
They were the two most penalized teams in the CFL and Bombers had played just 96 hours earlier and have been beset by all manner of injuries, losing two of their best receivers (Chris Matthews and Terrence Edwards) within minutes of each other in the first quarter. Matthews eventually returned. But in the end Ray managed a couple of seconds of magic that eluded his counterpart with the Blue Bombers, Alex Brink.
Justin Palardy was 5-for-5 in field goals and converted Brink’s touchdown plunge. Ray, who was surgical in the first half as he picked apart the Bombers in the flats, distributing 14 passes to five different receivers including the sublime Andre Durie, hit Chad Owens on a 37-yard scoring toss and also hooked up with Cory Boyd four minutes and 53 seconds into the game.
The Bombers lived in fear of Boyd in the first half. Ray made them pay. The second half was a mess. “We just couldn’t get any rhythm in the second half,” Ray said.
Enter the Argonauts defence, who were ripped into by defensive coordinator Chris Jones at half-time. “Chris was upset how they were running the ball, and he got after them,” Milanovich said, eyes widening. “He challenged them as much as I’ve heard any coach challenge anybody.
As for the Blue Bombers? Palardy’s 30-yard field goal with 1:40 left in the first half giving them the lead for the first time in a span of 208 minutes and 24 seconds. It was 13-11, and the lead lasted for all of 58 seconds. And that’s something for the Bombers to contemplate Thursday morning as they attempt to spin their 0-4 start. Know this: they will tell you that the B.C. Lions started 0-4 in 2011 and went on to win the Grey Cup. But this feels different; there has been a sense of a season off-kilter from the start. Part of that is the product of putting trust in a quarterback, Buck Pierce, who can’t stay healthy. Part of it, too, comes from a schedule that has seen them start the season with four road games due to construction on a new stadium that as it turns out won’t be ready in 2012. Stuff like that happens, and you have to wonder whether it’s your season.