The Toronto Argonauts may have needed a field goal in the final seconds to nail their first win of the season in a game they should have easily won, but head coach Scott Milanovich isn't about to complain.
The Argos needed a game-winning field goal with seconds left in the game from Noel Prefontaine to win the game 39-36. The outcome was far from certain as he prepared for the 28-yard field goal – the veteran kicker had already missed two (one was returned 125 yards by Larry Taylor for a touchdown).
"There's a lot to clean up," said Milanovich, who said he would keep the game ball to mark his first win as a head coach in the Canadian Football League. "We can look forward to a team that will compete and not be perfect all the time but they will stick together and play hard."
His team overcame a shaky start and a choppy ending to beat the Calgary Stampeders in their home opener, as the Ricky Ray-led offence found its legs. The team's defence , meanwhile, took advantage of an early exit by Calgary's starting quarterback Drew Tate, who likely suffered a separated shoulder.
He was replaced by veteran Kevin Glenn, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 172 yards. He threw two touchdowns and two interceptions, and fumbled the ball once.
The win comes as a relief to both the Argonauts, who improved to 1-1, and the Canadian Football League, which is counting on the team to have a strong year ahead of the 100th Grey Cup that will be played in the city this fall.
The afternoon game at the Rogers Centre was sparsely attended, with a reported 20,682 spectators making their way through a grid-locked downtown to sit under an open Rogers Centre roof.
Earlier in the week Argos president Chris Rudge said the team needs at least 25,000 fans attending each home game to be viable. On this hot day, the team was also competing against the Honda Indy Toronto for spectators.
The fans that did make it to the stadium were treated to a frenetic fourth quarter that almost saw the Stampeders rally back to snatch the game from the Argos.
The Stampeders' Taylor returned the missed field goal for the third-longest touchdown in team history and brought the team within two points, with a two-point conversion tying the game.
The teams would trade turnovers, with a Calgary touchdown finally tying the game with just over a minute left on a 15-yard reception by Dontrelle Inman – his second of the game.
Toronto was able to move the ball upfield quickly, however, setting up the winning field goal. Milanovich said he didn't worry that his kicker would send the ball wide with the game on the line.
"When the game is on the line you want his foot," he said of Prefontaine, who was good on six of eight attempts.
Ray dominated the game, going 30 for 40 attempts for 407 passing yards. He threw two touchdowns, and two interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown). He said he was happy with his game, but that the team needs to better execute in the red zone.
"In the back of you mind you're thinking you're only getting three on these and we need to get some touchdowns," he said. "A couple of plays and they're back in the game, so we need to do better job of finishing those drives. We're moving the ball well, but we need to come up with some touchdowns."