Argonauts claim 16th win in downing Ottawa REDBLACKS

OTTAWA — The Toronto Argonauts closed out the 2023 regular season by standing on equal ground with a historic team.

The Argos’ 27-22 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS gave them a 16-2 record, matching the league record that the 1989 Edmonton team posted. The Argos hold the league’s best record this season and having clinched the East Division in mid-September, will host the Eastern Final at BMO Field on Sat. Nov. 11.

Argos’ quarterback Cameron Dukes made 22-34 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions early in the game. Dukes played in place of starter Chad Kelly.

Dustin Crum made 22-35 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions for the REDBLACKS. The rookie added eight carries for 73 yards.

REDBLACKS’ receiver Justin Hardy had a touchdown and broke the 1,000 receiving yard mark on the season. Running back Devonte Williams broke the 1,000 rushing yard mark on the season in the dying seconds of the loss.

Both defences dug in early to make a statement in the game, but it was the Argos that got on the scoreboard first. After REDBLACKS’ defensive back Alonzo Addae snagged a Dukes pass that was intended for David Ungerer III, Toronto’s defence had an immediate response. Rookie DB Mason Pierce got his hands on Crum’s pass and forced his way to the end zone, marking a 30-yard score. Boris Bede‘s convert made it a 7-0 game, 4:41 into play.

The Argos’ offence got into the game next. Dukes found receiver Dejon Brissett behind the REDBLACKS’ defence and the two combined for a 61-yard touchdown pass at 12:41. The six-play, 98-yard drive gave Brissett his fifth touchdown of the season and helped the Argos to a 14-0 lead.

Addae saw his hard work — he pulled in a deflected pass for his second interception of the night — go for naught again. Back on the field, Crum had his next pass deflected by defensive lineman Thomas Costigan, with the airborne ball pulled in by Argos’ defensive back Benji Franklin, who made his CFL debut on Saturday, coming in off of the Argos’ practice roster. Fortunately for the REDBLACKS, the Argos’ ensuing drive ended in a punt.

After Crum found receiver Justin Hardy for a 41-yard reception to the Argos’ 10-yard line, Toronto’s defence snuffed out any touchdown potential for the REDBLACKS, pushing them back a total of seven yards. Michael Domagala‘s 24-yard field goal got the REDBLACKS on the board and had them trailing 14-3 at 6:07 of the second quarter.

The REDBLACKS got another boost from their defence when Alijah McGhee forced a fumble off of Argos’ running back Deontae McMahon. McGhee scooped up the ball and got the offence on the field at Ottawa’s 45-yard line. While the REDBLACKS didn’t turn this possession over, they were unable to move the ball and punted after a quick two-and-out.

Domagala added a 39-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half to make it a 14-6 Toronto advantage at halftime.

After a 46-yard field goal from Domagala made it 14-9 at 8:31 of the third quarter, the Argos added to their lead again. McMahon capped a seven-play, 55-yard drive with a two-yard burst into the end zone at 11:39 of the third quarter, pushing the score to 20-9. The play came with a skirmish between the two teams in the end zone, with Bede eventually adding the extra point at 11:58.

Franklin continued to add to his big night when he scooped up a fumble early in the fourth quarter, getting his team the ball at midfield. That resulted in a Bede 37-yard field goal that made it a 24-9 game at 6:23.

After struggling to find the end zone all night, the REDBLACKS got their breakthrough after Bede’s field goal. Crum led a five-play, 7o-yard drive that he finished off with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Hardy, who took some heavy contact to get into the end zone. The receiver broke the plane and broke the 1,000 receiving yard mark on the play. Domagala’s convert went through at 8:36 and got his team back into the game, at 24-16.

In keeping with the theme of the night, the Argos had an answer for the REDBLACKS’ action. Bede’s 38-yard field goal pushed the margin back to 11 at 27-16, at 12:05.

While they endured the loss, the REDBLACKS found the end zone one last time for the year when Crum connected with receiver Keaton Bruggeling, giving him his first CFL touchdown with 23 seconds to play. The team missed on its two-point convert attempt.

The REDBLACKS head into the off-season on the outside of the playoff picture looking in for the fourth consecutive season. The Argonauts will sit idle next week while the Divisional Semi-Finals play out. They’ll host the winner of the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sat. Nov. 11 in the Eastern Final at BMO Field.

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