Argos crush Eskimos, advance to East final
Hold the Gatorade.
That’s the approach rookie head coach Scott Milanovich is taking as he guides his Toronto Argonauts towards the ultimate goal of playing in the 100th Grey Cup game two weeks from Sunday here at the Rogers Centre.
His enthusiastic charges had traditionally dumped the sticky orange liquid all over him after dispatching an overmatched Edmonton Eskimos side, 42-26 in front of 25,792 appreciative onlookers.
Just a little early, quoth the boss.
"We’re not just satisfied with this," said Milanovich, already thinking ahead to next week at Olympic Stadium against his former employers, the Montreal Alouettes, and his mentor, coach Marc Trestman.
"I was upset they threw Gatorade. I said ‘This is not the Grey Cup, this is one playoff win. It’s one of three steps that we hope to take.’ "
Milanovich was laughing a bit when he told the media that, but you could tell he was serious about not getting carried away.
His players understood, but they weren’t chagrined.
"He deserved it," said offensive line stalwart Chris Van Zeyl. "He deserved every second of it."
The rookie boss has been under the radar this week as focus has been on quarterback Ricky Ray facing his old teammates with the season on the line.
But there’s no denying the effect Milanovich has had on a club coming off a six-win disaster in 2011 that features only 13 holdovers.
Toronto (9-9, 1-0) spotted the visitors seven points on Sunday, scored a league playoff record 31 in the second and cruised from there to a dominant victory in the CFL’s cross-over playoff round.
Playing without their star linebacker, J.C. Sherritt, whose sore ankle didn’t allow him to dress, the Eskimos (7-11, 0-1) could not contain the Argonaut offence despite a good start that saw them up 7-0 as the opening quarter came to an end.
"We could not have started off worse than we did, but I don’t think anyone panicked," said Milanovich. "The defence stepped it up after that first drive and kept giving us the ball back, and we had good field position basically from towards the end of the first quarter into the second quarter."
Mistakes, penalties, turnovers and, yes, Ricky Ray combined to bury Edmonton in that second 15 minutes, effectively putting the game away.
Ray, now 9-4 in the post-season, was 23-of-30 for 239 yards, two TDs, no picks and scampered for another score on 33-year-old legs. After that last one, he was caught smiling on the sidelines – unusual for a guy who normally is so focused.
"Man, I hadn’t been in the end zone for a while," he said, smiling again, "It was just a huge second quarter for us and to get that score before halftime was big. It was just a lot of fun."
That still leaves Ray one behind Montreal QB Anthony Calvillo in the "Veteran guys who have run TDs in this year" category.
"Anthony had two against Saskatchewan that were really impressive," Ray laughed. "Mine was just a six-yarder, so I’ve got a ways to go to catch him."
Kerry Joseph, himself an aged 39 and playing possibly his last game, was ineffective, throwing for just under 200 yards and three TDs, two when the matter was already decided.
Fred Stamps, the No. 2 receiver in the CFL behind Chad Owens, was a non-factor all day, not catching his first ball until the second quarter and finishing with just three grabs for 51 yards, plus a two-point convert.
Matt Nichols came in to relieve Joseph for the third quarter and seemed to be getting something out of the Green and Gold offence until Ronald Flemons fell heavily on his legs as the QB was scooting out of the pocket.
That ended the youngster’s day and he was taken off by golf cart with what was later called a dislocated ankle. As a measure of how his team feels about him, the entire club came off the sidelines to wish him well.
A little hope, then no prayer
Edmonton won the toss and came out as expected, concentrating on the run and taking the opening possession 91 yards in seven plays, capping with a Joseph roll out from the 11 that found Cary Koch by the left pylon for a 7-0 lead.
Meantime, the defence seemed to have the Argos worked out and the game looked to be settling towards the visitors.
Until the seven-win team that came East suddenly showed up and it all went south.
Joe Burnett ran a punt back to the Argo 14, only to have it negated by an illegal block. A time-count violation ruined the subsequent drive.
- Cory Boyd fumbled the ball and Toronto’s Flemons recovered on the Edmonton 24. After an apparent pick by Burnett in the end zone was taken away by replay, Ray hit Chad Kackert for a short catch and run TD and it was 7-7.
- Chad Owens then rammed a punt down the Eskimos’ throats for a 59-yard touchdown and it was 14-7.
- Joseph put a sharp shovel pass straight as an arrow into defender Marcus Ball’s hands for 53 yards the other way. That led to a Ray to Maurice Mann TD and 21-7.
- Now completely spooked, the Eskimos allowed two more drives, resulting in a 34-yard Swayze Waters field goal and a great Ray run for a seven yard TD with :01 to the half for 31-7.
As mentioned, those 31 points surpassed the previous playoff record for a second quarter set in 1979, but it was that they were unanswered that was most damning for Edmonton.