Coach Scott Milanovich says his Toronto Argonauts are getting better.
They played with discipline, stuffed Montreal’s offence and got a big game from running back Steve Slaton in a 31-5 defeat of the punchless Alouettes on Friday night.
The Argonauts (2-4) ended a three-game losing skid and, despite their record, moved into first place in the woeful CFL East Division.
“It was big,” said Milanovich. “The big thing was we bought into what it takes to win.
“We had less penalties. We protected the ball better. We protected our quarterback and we got after their quarterback. That’s the formula. Its the first time we grasped that.”
Slaton, who rushed for 52 yards and caught six passes for another 48, caught a TD pass in the final minute of the first half and added another on the opening drive of the second.
“Steve’s talented,” Milanovich said of the former Houston Texan. “Unfortunately, he’s been hurt for four of our first six games, but he’s got some burst.”
Linebacker Jamie Robinson scored on a late interception off a pass by Alex Brink and kicker Swayze Waters added two field goals. The Argos also got four points on a pair of safeties in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
Toronto rebounded from a 37-9 loss at Saskatchewan last week despite a so-so game from Ray, who completed 19 of 33 passes for 186 yards. It hasn’t helped the veteran QB that the Argos are missing a handful of receivers to injuries, including stars Chad Owens and Andre Durie.
It helped a lot that the defence held Montreal to only 125 net yards and that, as a team, Toronto took only four penalties to Montreal’s 12.
The Alouettes (1-4) did not score a touchdown for a second consecutive game despite switching back and forth between quarterbacks Troy Smith and Brink, with Tanner Marsh also seeing action on short yardage plays.
Sean Whyte had a field goal and two singles for the Alouettes, who were coming off a bye week after a 41-5 defeat at B.C. two weeks ago. There were boos from the 20,692 at Percival Molson Stadium as they left the field at halftime.
“Right now it looks like we have a two-quarterback system, even though neither quarterback played as well as we anticipated or wanted them to,” said Montreal coach Tom Higgins, who made the switches based on “certain criteria” he didn’t elaborate on. “So we’re back at the drawing board now.
“We’ve got to find a quarterback that can move our offence. We’re not getting production from that position. I have to find a way by hook or by crook to get more than five points. That’s not going to do it in the CFL.”
Smith was handed the starting job out of training camp, taking on the difficult job of replacing retired all-time CFL passing leader Anthony Calvillo. He has had his moments, but still overthrows receivers regularly and does not run with the ball.
Brink looked promising, but had some drives stalled by penalties.
“I wasn’t happy, but we’ve got to win,”Smith said of getting the hook. “There was no portion of me that was going to be sombre.
“I have to feel I’ll get better because I’m the quarterback of this team. There’s no other way to think but to be positive. I will stay positive. I won’t admit this is bad and it’s going to get worse because I’m trying to do good and positive things. We’ll get back to the drawing board.”
Smith was 5-for-10 for 63 yards, while Brink went 9-for-23 for 60 yards.
Neither team was able to move the ball in the first half until Ray finally led a TD drive in the final minute capped by Slaton’s 10-yard catch over the middle for a 10-5 lead at the intermission.
A long kickoff return by Robert Gill to open the second half and a 24-yard gain on a reverse by Slaton put the ball on the Montreal five, where Ray hit Slaton for a TD at 2:57.
Robinson stepped in front of Brink’s throw to Eric Deslauriers and ran it back 46 yards for a TD with 1:33 left to play.
Waters had booted a 30-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter, although he missed a 38-yarder and put 48-yard attempt off the left upright.
Montreal managed two singles and a 49-yard Whyte field goal in the opening half, as Smith started and was relieved in the second quarter by Brink.
The team’s woes were highlighted by a third-and-two gamble at the 53, after calling a time out, on which they were called for having 13 men on the field, forcing them to punt.
Smith was back to start the second half, only to have Brink step in again midway through the third quarter.
Montreal receiver Mardy Gilyard’s first CFL start didn’t last long, as he left with what seems to be a serious leg injury in the first quarter after making two catches for 16 yards.
Left tackle Josh Bourque left with an injury in the fourth quarter but Higgins said it may not be serious.