Argonauts rally in final quarter to defeat short-handed Roughriders
Saskatchewan had 10 regulars out of the lineup due to COVID-19 exposure
The short-handed Saskatchewan Roughriders were no match for tailback Andrew Harris as the Toronto Argonauts registered a 31-21 CFL victory on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Harris gained 143 yards on 26 carries as the Argos (3-2) overcame a 21-14 deficit with 17 points in the final 4:30 of the game. The victory was the second in a row for the Argos over the Riders (4-3) following a 30-24 win on July 16 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia as part of the Touchdown Atlantic campaign.
Harris is in his 11th CFL season, breaking in with the B.C. Lions for five seasons before joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for five seasons. He signed with the Argos during the off-season and Sunday's game allowed him to build on his legacy as he eclipsed the 10,000-yard rushing mark for his career.
He might be only five games into his stint with the Argos but Harris admitted this game was special.
"I haven't had too many games as an Argonaut but this one is definitely going to stick out for many reasons. But at the end of the day, I thought our team stuck together as a whole. Personal accomplishments are great but today I'm really proud of my team and how we responded to certain situations," said Harris.
Argos quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who finished 30 of 38 passing for 336 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, couldn't say enough about Harris's impact.
"He brings a level of toughness to our team. He brings a level of toughness to our office. He takes on four or five guys on every play, I can't imagine the defence wants to go against him," said Bethel-Thompson. "He's a hall of famer, he's a champion. We are lucky to have him."
WATCH | Argos defeat Roughriders in back-to-back weeks:
Harris's career total is now 10,068 yards which is good for sixth spot on the all-time rushing list. Charles Roberts occupies fifth place with 10,285 yards. Mike Pringle is the CFL's all-time rushing leader with 16,425 yards.
The Riders, with 10 regulars out of the lineup due to COVID-19 exposure, entered the game as underdogs but came close to earning a victory before Toronto took over the game late in the fourth quarter.
The final quarter splurge allowed the Argos to overcome a 21-14 deficit. Kurleigh Gittens, who scored on a 70-yard pass and run play in the second quarter, hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 21-21 with 4:28 remaining.
Boris Bede kicked the game-winning field goal, a 29-yarder, with 47 seconds left in the game. Toronto sealed the deal on the ensuing kickoff when Enoch Penney-Laryea scooped up a fumble by returner Mario Alford and scored a 10-yard touchdown.
The winning field goal was set up by a 35-yard punt return by Brandon Banks that put the Argos on the Saskatchewan 50-yard line with 3:30 remaining.
It was the only punt return of the game for Banks and when he took his place on the field, Harris knew something good was about to happen for the Argos.
"I was excited. As soon as I saw him get out there I was like, `Oh, here we go.' He just has a knack for hitting the hole. He set us up to chew the clock out and get that field goal to seal the game," said Harris.
Gittens also had a strong game, catching eight passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. His 70-yarder in the second quarter was an impressive effort as he caught the ball on the Saskatchewan 47-yard-line and then proceeded to run away from the Riders' defence for the touchdown.
It was the combination of big plays and turnovers that allowed Saskatchewan to keep the game close until the late stages. The Riders capitalized on five Toronto turnovers — the Argos lost three fumbles, were stopped on one third down gamble and were intercepted once.
The Riders gathered momentum by scoring two touchdowns in the final 1:39 of the second quarter. Rookie quarterback Jake Dolegala, making his first CFL start, hit Tevin Jones with a 10-yard scoring pass to cut the Argos lead to 11-10.
Then with 26 seconds left in the half, Alford scored an electric 112-yard touchdown on a return of a missed 61-yard field goal attempt by Bede. Alford caught the ball to the left of the uprights but worked his way across the field and down the right sideline into the Toronto end zone to give Saskatchewan a 15-11 halftime lead.
The Argos' offence controlled the first half statistically, collecting 15 first downs with 19:52 time of possession compared to Saskatchewan's five first downs and 10:08 of possession.
The six-foot-seven, 242-pound Dolegala was filling in for starter Cody Fajardo, who was in COVID protocol this week while also nursing a knee injury. Mason Fine, who finished COVID protocol on Friday, served as the backup quarterback.
Darnell Sankey had an interception while Rolan Milligan, Anthony Lanier and Charleston Hughes had fumble recoveries for the Riders. Hughes, DeMarcus Christmas and Mike Edem registered sacks for Saskatchewan which leads the CFL with 26 sacks.