Argos lick Stamps on last-minute kick
Noel Prefontaine lined up a 43-yard field-goal attempt for the win with a calm that comes from 14 years of kicking in the CFL.
The 37-year-old made it look easy with just 17 seconds remaining in the game. The Toronto Argonauts downed the Calgary Stampeders 23-21 in the season-opener for both clubs Friday and also ended a five-year losing streak at McMahon Stadium.
"There's nerves, but there's also a sense of calmness that I've been there before and done it in games," Prefontaine said following the game. "This is what they pay me to do. This is my responsibility as a kicker, to go in there and make those money kicks."
The Argos had last beaten the Stamps at home on July 1, 2005, in a 22-16 victory.
"Was that the game I got punched in the face?" Prefontaine asked.
Yes, it was. Argos teammate Robert Baker knocked Prefontaine back several steps with a punch to the jaw during that game. Prefontaine was trying to calm an enraged Baker, who claimed he had been spat on by a Stampeder player.
The Toronto kicker's role in Friday's win was dramatic, but for different reasons. The last two of Prefontaine's three field goals were made in the final three minutes, pulling his team within a point of the Stamps and then ahead for the victory.
Cory Boyd and Brandon Rideau scored touchdowns for the visitors in front of 27,428 at McMahon. The sun was shining and the temperature 19 degrees at kickoff.
Calgary had the most potent offence in the CFL last season when they posted a 13-5 record. That firepower was absent, however, for the first three quarters as they mustered just six points.
Calgary took a short-lived 21-17 lead in the fourth quarter on touchdowns from Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish. Rob Cote added a two-point convert.
Prefontaine was also good from 25 and 24 yards. His solid performance starkly contrasted with that of second-year Calgary kicker Rob Maver, who made just one of his four field-goal attempts and was loudly booed on his third miss of the night.
Maver was wide from 32, 45 and 21 yards in the game and made one from 17. He was visibly limping on the field.
'Not fully healthy'
"All I can say at this point is I'm not fully healthy and we're going to assess the damage and evaluate it tomorrow," Maver said. "As far as guys in this locker room go, you really couldn't ask for a better bunch.
"If I were another player, I'd want to take me outside the back of the clubhouse and stuff me in a garbage bin and that would be perfectly justified after tonight."
Argonauts quarterback Cleo Lemon made 16 of 30 pass attempts for 187 yards. He threw one touchdown pass, was intercepted once and sacked once. Calgary counterpart Henry Burris was 26-for-36 for 293 yards. Burris was picked off once and sacked three times.
After going 3-15 in 2009, Toronto went 9-9 last season and lost to the eventual Grey Cup champion in the Eastern final. The Argos went 2-0 in the pre-season and open this season with three straight games away from home.
"We just came back on the winningest team in the CFL last year at their home field," said Argos receiver Jeremaine Copeland, a former Stampeder. "We hadn't won here since 2005. It's huge for our momentum. We came on the road, got a victory, first game of the season, it's big man. We're looking to climb this ladder and keep going in the right direction right now."
Argos receiver Chad Owens appeared dazed and left the field with assistance after a hard hit in the second quarter. The CFL's outstanding special teams player in 2010 had his head driven into the turf by Cornish on a punt return and did not return to the game.
"His back tightened on that hit," Argos coach Jim Barker said. "[He] couldn't get it loose so he didn't play the second half."
Calgary took the lead for the first time in the game at 9:59 of the fourth quarter, when Cornish capped a five-play, 50-yard drive with a three-yard run to make it 21-17. But that lead shrunk to one point when Prefontaine made his 25-yarder at 12:42.
The hosts scored their first major and executed a key two-point convert to pull within three points of the visitors at 6:40. Reynolds ran the ball to the two-yard line and with his 1,500th carry as a Stampeder finished the job on the next play.
Cote's five-yard reception gave Calgary the extra two points and the Stamps trailed 17-14 with just under seven minutes to play.
Boyd put the Argos up 17-6 just 20 seconds into the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown plunge. His 34-yard dash to end the third had put Toronto inside the five-yard line.
Toronto capitalized on Calgary returner Larry Taylor's fumble early in the third quarter. Prefontaine's kick from 24 yards made it 10-5 at 1:26.
Calgary had a chance to salvage a terrible third quarter offensively when cornerback Geoff Tisdale picked off Lemon at Toronto's 18-yard line.
But Burris couldn't connect with receiver Arjei Franklin in the end zone and Maver missed a field-goal attempt.
Toronto scored the lone major of the first half at 7:35 of the second quarter. Lemon lobbed an 18-yard pass into the end zone for Rideau, who executed a basket catch under pressure from Tisdale.
The Stampeders are on the road for their next two games. The Lions host Calgary on Friday and then the Stamps are in Winnipeg on July 14.
The Argonauts were better on the road in 2010 with a 5-4 record, compared to 4-5 at home. They're in Winnipeg on Friday and in Montreal on July 15.
"When you're on the road three times, to be able to start off with a win and a win in this manner, where we brought it down a kicked a field goal to win it at the end, it sets you off in the right track," Barker said.