QB Ricky Ray rallies Toronto Argonauts to Grey Cup berth with stunning final drive

TORONTO — Ricky Ray engineered a near-flawless touchdown drive with under two minutes remaining to send the Argos to the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.

Ray was held in check all day and after the Argonauts surrendered an 18-3 lead to fall behind, Ray pieced together a brilliant 10-play, 68-yard possession including a perfect pass to James Wilder Jr. on third-and-five to seal the deal.

The Riders got on the board first with a 16-yard Tyler Crapigna field goal as part of a 73-yard first possession aided by gains of over 20 yards by Duron Carter and Naaman Roosevelt.

After finishing last in the East Division last season with a 3-15 record, the Argonauts turned things around under the new regime of Marc Trestman and Jim Popp. The team finished first in the East Division in the regular season and will now head to Ottawa next week looking to put the cherry on top of their turn-around season.

Ray finished the game connecting on 28 of 39 passes for 266 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Anthony Coombs was Ray’s favorite target on the afternoon as the slotback caught nine passes for 77 yards. Wilder Jr. tallied 104 all-purpose yards in the contest after the Riders defense held him to just 52 yards receiving and rushing.

The Riders flipped between Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge during the contest. Glenn finished connecting on six of 13 passes for 87 yards and three inceptions while Bridge was good on 11 of 21 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.

Duron Carter caught six passes for 99 yards and a touchdown at receiver before being switching to cornerback late in the game due to an injury to Jovon Johnson.

Argos LB Terrence Plummer celebrating pick six Photo: The Canadian Press

The Argos went to work on their third possession after being stuffed on a third-down run at the Saskatchewan 29-yard line to begin the game. After a big defensive stop, they started at the Saskatchewan 42-yard line. A pass to SB Anthony Coombs on a slant go the Argos first down yardage but DB Ed Gainey got a hand on the ball and popped it loose forcing a turnover at the 34-yard line.

The Argos would register the next turnover two plays later and it would prove to be the most costly to that point. Glenn dropped back and looked over the middle for WR Bakari Grant o a hook nut had his pass intercepted by first-year linebacker Terrence Plummer who returned it 39 yards for a pick-six touchdown and a 7-3 first quarter lead.

Glenn lasted two possessions in the second quarter before Brandon Bridge entered under centre with 10:32 remaining. The start of the platooning quarterbacks in Riderville began in September when Bridge came off the bench to help lead the Riders to a comeback victory over the Argos in Week 16. In that game he was 20 of 28 for two touchdowns.

Glenn was 6 of 11 for 87 yards and one interception before being sat down.

But both Bridge and Ray would find tough sledding in the second frame. Bridge had his hands full trying to evade rush ends Shawn Lemon and Victor Butler who had huge first halves. And Ray threw a pick to Willie Jefferon.

With 3:11 remaining Glenn re-entered and he too threw an interception on his first throw into the waiting arms of DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. After all the back-and-forth, this the interception that would finally lead to the game’s first offensive touchdown.

Ray put together a calm 7-play, 63-yard drive which he capped off with a 17-yard touchdown pass to sophomore WR DeVir Posey on a stop and go to give the Argos a 14-3 lead with 1:13 remaining in the half.

The Riders took over and Glenn again couldn’t solve an active Argos secondary who registered another turnover on the next play from scrimmage. Defensive back Cassius Vaughn leaked over the near corner, jumped up for a pass intended for Carter and hauled down the interception. It set up a 35-yard field goal and the Argos took a 17-3 lead to the break.

As the offenses tried to figure out their plan in the locker room at halftime, the numbers showed that the first half was simply dominant. In a total of 23 second-down chances the teams combined to to execute eight of them into first downs.

All 20 first-half points came off turnovers.

Saskatchewan WR Marcus Thigpen Photo: The Canadian Press

To add even more intrigue to how the offences were going to navigate the second half, the snow started to fall in Toronto at the start of the third quarter. An interesting variable considering the grass playing surface at BMO Field.

After the Argos started the half by gaining a single point off a missed 42-yard field goal, the Riders took the field with Bridge back in at QB as the platooning continued.

As the third quarter came to an end, Bridge seemed to have found his footing completing three straight first downs to get them out of the shadow of their own goal posts. But once inside Argos territory, scrambled to find an open man and surrendered a sack which posted as a loss of 17 yards, pushing the Riders back into their end.

With just over 11 minutes left, Bridge settled in. With the aid of better protection up front, Bridge completed a pass to Carter for 35 yards and then ran for another 36 himself. All led to an 11-yard touchdown pass to Carter on a slant to cut the lead to 18-10 with 8:47 remaining.

The major was the first thrown by a Canadian QB in a divisional playoff game since 1968 Eastern Final.

Armed with all the momentum, the Riders got a quick two-and-out and then Bridge spotted Roosevelt for a 25-yard gain to set up a 28-yard Crapigna field goal to take the score to 18-13 with 4:44 left.

The defense stepped up and got another stop before special teams made their mark on the game. Christian Jones fielded a punt with 2:44 left, bounced outside and took it 79 yards to the house. That, plus a successful two-point conversion gave the Riders their first lead since the first quarter, 21-18.

The lead was short-lived as with exactly 2:00 on the clock Ray took over and simply carved the Riders secondary and with 44 seconds left, backup QB Cody Fajardo plunged for a 1-yard score to lock in the 25-21 victory and a trip to Ottawa for next week’s Grey Cup.

Their opponent will be the Calgary Stampeders for the fourth time in CFL history.

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