Ricky Ray, Jon Cornish compete for top CFL award

Either Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray or Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish will be crowned the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in Regina on Thursday night.

Most Outstanding Player finalists put playoff losses behind them

Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray, left, and Stampeders running back Jon Cornish are the finalists for Most Outstanding Player. (Canadian Press)

The CFL Western Division final is behind Calgary running back Jon Cornish. The Eastern final, however, still rankles Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray.

One of the two will have something to celebrate Thursday night as the CFL hands out its annual awards.

Cornish is up for both Most Outstanding Player against Ray and for Outstanding Canadian against Winnipeg linebacker Henoc Muamba.

Cornish's Stampeders were ousted 35-13 by Saskatchewan last weekend while Ray's Argonauts were bounced 36-24 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

For Ray, the scab is still fresh.

"It is tough because you've got to wait six months until you get to really put it out of your system by moving on to the next year," he said of the pain. "Those are the games that are always going to haunt you a little bit.

"Even losing the Grey Cup in Edmonton my first year [in 2002], I still have bad memories from that game. Even though I've been back and been able to be on the victorious side, I still have bad thoughts about that game. I'm sure this will continue to give me bad thoughts throughout my career."

Cornish has been one of the best, most consistent guys we've had in this league- Argonauts QB Ricky Ray on Jon Cornish

Cornish is past the pain.

"I sort of left it back in Calgary," he said Wednesday night in a pre-awards availability.

"It would have been harder to swallow if it was a closer game, but the way we lost and having seven turnovers, it's not hard to be able to walk away from a game like that and just forget about it. We didn't play Stampeder football. There's no use in holding onto it."

Cornish led the league in rushing with a Canadian-record 1,813 yards. The 29-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., was also No. 1 in yards from scrimmage (2,157) and TDs (14).

Ricky's performance this year is going to go down in the record books- Stampeders RB Jon Cornish on Ricky Ray 

When healthy, Ray was like a metronome with a league-record 77.2 per cent completion average and just two interceptions in 303 pass attempts. The 34-year-old from California missed six starts due to injury and was a healthy scratch in Toronto's regular-season finale.

He was in a remarkable groove for most of the season.

"It felt like guys were open. I was just dropping back and finding guys open," Ray said. "Things were just clicking ... It's a good feeling to have."

But the finale to the season inexplicably went south after a fine first half against Hamilton.

"They just came out and played better. Obviously, I didn't play good enough to win," he said. "That's what you think about when you lose. You think about all the plays you wish you could have back to do over again. Maybe make a better throw, a better read."

Ray was offered the chance to take in the championship game as a spectator but declined.

"It would be tough to watch the game live and sit in the cold. I'd just think about last week and wanting to be here, so I chose not to."

Ray and Cornish exchanged compliments in their separate media scrums.

"Cornish has been one of the best, most consistent guys we've had in this league over the last few years," said Ray. "Just the numbers he's been able to put up on a game-by-game basis, add them up throughout the year and it's pretty special."

Said Cornish: "Ricky's performance this year is going to go down in the record books for his effectiveness on every play. I've been saying for years, Ricky Ray is one of the best players in this league. For me, not even winning, just being up against him is one of the biggest honours I've had."

Ray may well be hurt by his occasional inactivity.

"I guess the big question is did I play enough," he said.

Tight end Tony Gabriel (1978) and quarterback Russ Jackson (1963, 1966, 1969) are the only Canadians to have won Most Outstanding Player honours.

Cornish is one of four Stampeder nominees, joining defensive end Charleston Hughes (defensive player), centre Brett Jones (rookie) and kicker Rene Paredes (special-teams player).

Brendon LaBatte of the Saskatchewan Roughriders was the West Division's top lineman.

The other East Division finalists are Montreal linebacker Chip Cox (defensive player), Toronto centre Jeff Keeping (lineman), Hamilton Tiger-Cats running back C.J. Gable (rookie) and Marc Beswick (special-teams player).

The awards are voted on by the Football Reporters of Canada and the league's eight head coaches.


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