TORONTO — A rugged defence staggered the Calgary Stampeders before Ricky Ray delivered the knockout punch and earned the Toronto Argonauts a historic Grey Cup victory Sunday.
Toronto’s defence, under the guidance of former Calgary assistant Chris Jones, held CFL rushing leader Jon Cornish to 57 yards while pressuring quarterback Kevin Glenn before Ray’s seven-yard TD pass to Andre Durie late in the game cemented the Argonauts’ 35-22 win in the 100th edition of the CFL championship.
Toronto running back Chad Kackert, with 133 yards rushing, was the game MVP while defensive end Ricky Foley claimed top Canadian honours. Ray, obtained last December in a blockbuster trade with Edmonton, finished 18-of-30 passing for 231 yards and two TDs.
The Argos dominated a potent Calgary offence that scored 51 TDs this season — tied with Montreal for the league lead — holding it to just four field goals before Maurice Price’s TD catch and two-point conversion with 20 seconds remaining.
Defensive back Pacino Horne brought the rabid Rogers Centre sellout crowd of 53,208 to its feet in the opening half. His key 25-yard TD interception return staked Toronto to a dominant 18-point halftime advantage.
Calgary came in as the CFL’s hottest team with 13 wins in 15 games after opening the season 3-4. Glenn guided the club to nine wins in 14 starts after incumbent Drew Tate injured his shoulder, then replaced the injured Tate (forearm) to lead the Stampeders past the defending Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions in last weekend’s West final.
Calgary also boasted the CFL’s top rusher in Cornish, the league’s top Canadian after running for 1,457 yards this season. But Glenn and Co. had no answer for Toronto’s swarming defence as the Argos ended their season with a fifth straight victory. Earlier this year, the CFL fined the Argos $5,000 for tampering after hiring Jones, ruling they didn’t ask Calgary for permission to speak with the veteran defensive co-ordinator.
“We didn’t start well. We didn’t take advantage of their turnover and they got two touchdowns on theirs,” Stampeders coach John Hufnagel said. “But the bottom line was that we didn’t get the ball into the end zone until the game was out of reach.”
Many of the enthusiastic fans at the Rogers Centre were on their feet as members of the RCMP marched the Grey Cup to centre field while country star Johnny Reid — a former kicker at Bishop’s University — opened the pre-game show with cheerleaders representing all eight CFL teams also on the turf.
And it became obvious early who the crowd’s team of choice was as Calgary players received polite applause during the pre-game introductions before Rogers Centre exploded with loud chants of “Argos” when it was time for the Toronto offence to come on to the field. Not surprisingly, the loudest cheers were for receiver Chad Owens — the CFL’s outstanding player — and Ray, the club’s offensive catalysts in 2012.
The crowd, which included fans in the colours of all eight CFL teams, then joined Burton Cummings in singing O Canada.
After pop stars Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen headlined the halftime show, Calgary took possession to open the third, looking to respond after being thoroughly dominated. The Stampeders did respond with an 81-yard, nine-play drive but only mustered a field goal to cut Toronto’s lead to 24-9.
Owens returned the kickoff 43 yards to the Toronto 53 before being tackled by kicker Rene Paredes, who got up, threw his helmet down and began yelling at his teammates.
The Argos then got lucky twice.
The first break came when Toronto kicker Swayze Waters plunked a 15-yard field goal off the upright, but got a second shot from 20 yards out thanks to a procedure call, which he made to put the Argos ahead 27-9. But the killer for Calgary came on the kickoff when Larry Taylor’s 105-yard TD return was negated by a holding call.
Owens and Dontrelle Inman had Toronto’s other touchdowns. Waters added the converts and two field goals while Noel Prefontaine added a single.
Calgary’s other points came on a safety in finishing a dismal 0-3 versus Toronto this season.
A suffocating Argos defence forced three turnovers and set up two TDs, earning Toronto a dominant 24-6 halftime lead. The Argos recovered a fumble, picked Glenn off and stopped rookie backup Matt Walter on a third-down gamble.
Toronto’s defence stacked the box against Cornish, holding him to 37 yards rushing on nine attempts, but 26 came on two carries late in the half. Calgary managed just five first downs as Glenn, forced to deal with excessive crowd noise on every snap, was just 5-of-11 passing for 141 yards — 61 coming on a completion to Nik Lewis.
Ray was a tidy 13-of-20 passing for 177 yards and a TD but completed 10-of-11 attempts for 130 yards on second downs as Toronto held the ball for over 17 minutes. What’s more, the CFL’s most penalized team this year took none in the opening half.
Foley’s recovery of a Cornish fumble gave Toronto possession at the Calgary 44 and led to Ray’s five-yard TD strike to Owens to cap a six-play, 44-yard drive at 8:03, thrilling the Rogers Centre sellout. Horne recorded the biggest play of the half, going low to pick off then getting up and returning it for the touchdown. Glenn threw inside, seemingly expecting Price to break to his left but the Stampeders receiver went to his right, leaving Horne all alone for the interception.
“He had a rough start but he rebounded,” Hufnagel said of Glenn, who was replaced late in the game by backup Bo Levi Mitchell. “We were getting in scoring position but we had to settle for field goals.”
Toronto’s offence started tentatively but Ray tested Calgary’s secondary with a willingness to go deep. After failing to connect, Ray was finally rewarded with a 62-yard reception to a wide-open Jason Barnes that set up Waters’ 16-yard field goal for a 17-3 lead.
The Argos’ defence came up huge later in the second with Calgary facing second-and-five from the Toronto four-yard line. Instead of passing, the Stampeders looked to receiver Romby Bryant on an end- around but he was quickly tracked down by linebacker Ejiro Kuale for a seven-yard loss. That forced the West Division champions to settle for the 18-yard field goal.
Toronto ended the half emphatically on backup Jarious Jackson’s one-yard TD pass to Inman with 20 seconds remaining. Jackson’s pass came after Toronto struggled on short-yardage run attempts in last weekend’s 27-20 East Division final win in Montreal.