Fans celebrate with the team as Toronto Argonauts players score a touchdown during first half CFL football action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Argos beat Bombers 30-23 in first game back at BMO Field in nearly two years

TORONTO — Nick Arbuckle made his first CFL start in more than two years a memorable one.

Arbuckle threw one touchdown pass and dove in for his own to lift the Argonauts to a 30-23 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in Toronto’s long-awaited return to BMO Field on Saturday.

DaVaris Daniels scored on the reception, while D.J. Foster added a rushing touchdown for Toronto (2-1).

Darvin Adams and Rasheed Bailey had touchdown receptions for the Bombers (2-1), while Jesse Briggs scooped up a fumble and 83 yards in Winnipeg’s first loss of this abbreviated season.

The victory was revenge for the Argos, who dropped a 20-7 decision in Winnipeg a week earlier.

It was also a fitting victory for the Argos, who hadn’t played a game at their BMO Field home for 665 lone days – not since a big 39-9 victory over Ottawa on Oct. 26, 2019. Then the global COVID-19 pandemic erased the 2020 CFL season.

A smiling Argos general manager Pinball Clemons took the mic pre-game to address the sundrenched 9,866 fans in attendance on a steamy 28 C afternoon. Ontario COVID-19 guidelines allowed for 15,000 fans at the game.

Arbuckle made his first start in more than two years. He’d made his Argonauts debut a week earlier when Toronto’s rookie head coach Ryan Dinwiddie sent him in the second half in place of veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Dinwiddie said there was a sense of familiarity with Arbuckle, as he’d been the quarterbacks coach in Calgary when Arbuckle played there.

Arbuckle completed 23 of 32 pass attempts for 310 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Bombers QB Zach Collaros was 18-of-33 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Boris Bede booted three field goals for Toronto, from 52, 31 and 37 yards.

Foster scored Toronto’s first touchdown of the game, running it in from 10 yards out at 7:39 of the first to cap a 61-yard touchdown drive from Arbuckle.

Former Argos QB Collaros had a pass attempt picked off by Dexter McCoil Sr., that led to an Argos field goal that summed up the Bombers’ slow start to the game.

Bede booted two field goals in the quarter and Toronto led 13-0 to start the second quarter.

The Bombers finally got on the scoreboard when Jackson Jeffcoat batted the ball out of Arbuckle’s hands from behind. Briggs scooped up the ball and sprinted virtually unchallenged for an 83-yard touchdown at 3:14 of the second.

Winnipeg pulled to within 16-14 on Adams’ 51-yard touchdown catch at 12:04 of the second.

Arbuckle threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Daniels to cap a 63-yard drive that sent Toronto into the dressing room at halftime with a 22-14 lead.

Daniels took a massive hit from Brandon Alexander early in the second half that knocked Daniels’ helmet off before he hit the ground. Daniels was down for several nervous minutes before he was helped off the field. Alexander was whistled for unnecessary roughness – and a 15-yard penalty – on the play.

Arbuckle tossed a 31-yard pass to rookie Dejon Brissett – brother of Indiana Pacers/former Toronto Raptor power forward Oshae Brissett – that put Toronto on the one-yard line. Arbuckle muscled his way in for the touchdown at 7:55 of the third for a 29-15 lead.

The Bombers made things interesting in the final minutes when Collaros capped his 83-yard drive with a seven-yard TD pass to Bailey at 12:48 to slice the difference to seven points.

Bombers special teams ace Mike Miller had two tackles on the afternoon to break the CFL all-time special teams record. He now has 191, topping the 190 tackles by Jason Arakgi (2008-2016 with the B.C. Lions).

Because of COVID-19, the CFL pushed back the start of the season by nearly two months, and shortened the regular season from 18 to 14 games with no pre-season.

The Argos host the Edmonton Eskimos on Thursday, while the Blue Bombers return home to host Calgary on Aug. 29.