The Toronto Argonauts took full advantage of the Montreal Alouettes' early turnovers to gain some breathing room atop the CFL's East Division.
John Chiles caught a pair of Ricky Ray touchdown passes and Chad Owens returned a missed field goal attempt 118 yards in the first quarter Thursday to send Toronto on to emphatic 38-13 victory over Montreal.
Ray threw his third touchdown pass to Jason Barnes in the second quarter and Noel Prefontaine added a field goal moments later as the Argonauts roared to a 31-0 lead in general manager Jim Popp's coaching return for Alouettes.
Noel Devine fumbled three times as Montreal turned over the ball six times in its first game since head coach Dan Hawkins was fired.
"You never expect to get a start like that," Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said. "That's what you're always hoping for, to take advantage of the turnovers. We played great on defence, played great on special teams, and offensively we played great for a half and that's why we were able to get that lead."
The Argonauts (4-2) won their third straight game to increase their lead in the East to four points over Montreal and Hamilton.
"It's a long season," said Ray, who missed Toronto's last game with a knee injury. "We're pretty happy with where we're at right now but there's still two thirds of the season to play. Nobody really wins first place early in the year but you definitely give yourself a lot of breathing room or separation and that's what we wanted to do is to get the lead and be able to put the pressure on the other teams."
Ray appeared to tweak his knee in the first half and gave way to backup quarterback Zach Collaros with Toronto firmly in the driver's seat.
Alouettes keep sliding
The Alouettes (2-4), meanwhile, fell to 1-3 at home in 2013 to begin Popp's third stint as coach in his 18-year career with Montreal. He replaced Hawkins, who was brought in after Marc Trestman left to become head coach of the NFL's Chicago Bears, after just five games.
"We weren't good enough. You've got to be better than that," said Popp, who fell to 10-14 overall in the regular season. "You dig a hole like that in the first quarter, you get way behind, our offence was pinned deep, it takes you out of your game plan."
Ray threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Chiles 1:18 into the first quarter on Toronto's second play from scrimmage after Shane Horton recovered Devine's fumble on the opening kickoff.
Chiles was then wide open in the end zone at 8:17 to catch Ray's 19-yard touchdown pass to give the Argonauts a 14-0 lead.
"Somebody got mixed up and I popped open," Chiles said. "It felt good."
Owens ran 118 yards to increase the lead to 21-0 at 10:57 after Alouettes kicker Sean Whyte missed wide left on a 49-yard field goal attempt.
Toronto had built up a 31-0 lead when Whyte kicked a 48-yard field goal to end the first half that was greeted by mock cheers from the home fans.
Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo made it 32-10 when he threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Brandon London 34 seconds into the fourth quarter. Whyte added a 15-yard field goal.
It was the first of three meetings between the teams over the next five weeks.
Two of Devine's three fumbles came in the first quarter. Tyrrell Sutton also fumbled and Calvillo was intercepted as Montreal turned over the ball four times in the first half.
"When you shoot yourself in the foot by turning the ball over that does not help at all," Calvillo said. "I thought the guys up front played very well but we didn't sustain enough drives. We had two long drives where we were backed up and we got the ball out to midfield, but it just wasn't enough tonight."
Owens, who recovered a fumble by teammate Andre Durie on a 19-yard reception on the Argonauts' first offence play of the game, had a potential second touchdown called back in the second. Owens' 70-yard punt return was called back because of an illegal block.
Prefontaine kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it 31-0. He added a single in the third quarter and two more field goals in the fourth.
The two field goal attempts by Whyte were the only times Montreal made it across midfield on offence in the opening half.
"We've just got to stay humble and keep working because this is a long season and anything can happen," Owens said. "So we go back to the drawing board, we look at the film and take the good and the bad and we get better for it."