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Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray is sacked by Montreal Alouettes defensive end John Bowman (7) and linebacker Nicolas Boulay (52) during first half CFL action in Toronto on Oct. 18.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Jonathan Crompton is 6-1 as Montreal's starting quarterback, thanks to John Bowman and the rest of the Alouettes defence.

Crompton was 19-of-28 passing for 219 yards and a TD as Montreal earned an important 20-12 win over Toronto on Saturday night. But it was the Alouettes' defence that anchored the team's fourth straight win by continually harassing Ricky Ray and keeping a potent Argonauts offence without a touchdown before 16,834 spectators at Rogers Centre.

"It's important to get every win because of how tight it is in the East," said Bowman, the veteran Alouettes defensive lineman. "We came here with the intention of winning and getting after the quarterback and that's exactly what we did.

"We didn't get a lot of sacks but we forced a lot of errant throws, we forced some tough throws and they made some good receptions. But in the end we didn't give up a touchdown and got the win."

Montreal (7-8) moved into a tie for first in the East Division with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-8). Its defence allowed just four field goals and effectively shut down a Toronto offence that had scored 140 points in its previous four games despite losing defensive linemen Gabriel Knapton and Aaron Lavarias to injury.

"Our defence has been playing well the past few weeks," Crompton said. "You can't say enough good things about them.

"There's not a lot you can't say about them right now."

Toronto mustered just 19 total yards offensively in the third quarter alone. But after rallying the Argos from a 17-point deficit last week in a 34-33 win over Hamilton, Ray literally fell just short of doing so again Saturday as he was stopped on a third-and-one at the Montreal 35 with 1:27 remaining.

"We knew what play they were going to run," Bowman said. "We stood tall."

Still, the Argos had many chances late in the game.

They appeared in business when a pass interference call on Gerald Brown put them at the Montreal 23 with 12:09 remaining to play. But Montreal successfully challenged the call, forcing Toronto to punt.

Toronto got the ball back at the Montreal 47 after Aston Whiteside recovered a Crompton fumble. But the Argos settled for Swayze Waters' 37-yard field goal at 6:45 that cut the Als' lead to 20-9.

Toronto got another break when it took over at its 52-yard line after James Yurichuk blocked Whyte's punt with 5:17 remaining. Waters' 48-yard field goal at 11:50 cut Montreal's lead to 20-12.

After turning the ball over on downs, Toronto got it back for the last time at its 16-yard line with 24 seconds remaining. But Brown ended the comeback hopes with an interception.

Toronto mustered just 283 net offensive yards and Ray, who came in as the CFL's passing leader, finished 25-of-39 passing for 202 yards with the pick. Ray said the overturned pass interference call was big.

"That could've put us down deep and if we could've scored it would've been a real momentum builder," Ray said of the reversed call. "To have that call and have it taken off the board kind of gave them the momentum."

Added Argos coach Scott Milanovich: "It was a factor for sure, we were at least in field-goal range. But we still had opportunities."

Toronto (6-9) suffered its first loss in four games to drop to third in the East, making its next two contests crucially important. The Argos host Hamilton next weekend, then travel to Montreal on Nov. 2 needing to win those games to clinch both season series and solidify their post-season run.

Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal are essentially playing for two playoff spots due to the crossover. The B.C. Lions (8-7) are fourth in the West but would secure the No. 3 seed in the East if they finished the regular season with a better record than the Eastern conference's third-place squad.

Montreal, which began the season 1-7, visits Ottawa on Friday night before hosting Toronto. Montreal coach Tom Higgins credited the Alouettes' players for the team's amazing turnaround.

"They believed in the message that was presented to them from the start of training camp that we are a good football team, there is talent here," he said. "You've got to learn to play together and understand the ebbs and flows of the game and they did that beautifully and it's paying huge dividends."

Despite his stellar record, Crompton hasn't been lights-out for Montreal. He still hasn't recorded a 300-yard passing game and has thrown one more TD pass (eight) than interception, but Higgins says that's to be expected with a CFL sophomore.

"I think people forget he is truly a young quarterback learning and getting better each and every time," he said. "It just bodes well for us."

Tanner Marsh and S.J. Green had Montreal's touchdowns. Sean Whyte had the converts and two field goals.

Waters had Toronto's field goals.

Players and coaches on both teams teams wore pink-coloured items as part of the CFL's program to bring awareness to women's cancers. Argos slotback Chad Owens wore a sharp-looking pair of custom cleats in honour of an aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer.

NOTES — Offensive lineman Jarriel King and defensive back Branden Smith didn't dress for Toronto while defensive end Brian Brikowski and slotback Andrew Smith were Montreal's scratches . . . Heading into weekend action there had been 83 challenges by CFL coaches, with 25 being successful . . . West Division teams still lead the head-to-head series 28-12 but East squads have won nine of the last 11 matchups . . . According to the CFL, just two teams have ever won their division without being over .500, the '85 Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-8) and '01 Edmonton Eskimos (9-9) . . . Ray has never finished the season leading the CFL in TD passes. He came into Saturday's game with a league-high 27.