Argonauts rally for comeback win over Blue Bombers, end six-game slide
TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts swung a leg out of the 0-6-0 hole they had dug themselves, but they did it the hard way Thursday.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit S.J. Green for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining and the Argonauts rallied from a 20-0 deficit to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-27 for their first win of the CFL season.
His team down 20-10, Toronto coach Corey Chamblin said the gist of his halftime message was "Finish and this will be your finest moment."
The end came on Bethel-Thompson’s third TD pass of the game, with newly acquired quarterback Zach Collaros watching from the sidelines.
"I let go," said Bethel-Thompson, who completed 37-of-49 passes for 343 yards and ran for 44 yards more. "Last couple of weeks I’ve been getting in my own way. Tonight I just got out of my own way."
The Argos avoided a repeat of the 0-7-0 start they had in 1981 when they started 0-9-0 and finished a league-worst 2-14-0.
"Like I told the guys, that storm tested us," Chamblin said of the losing streak. "It taught us to believe in one another, it taught us how to fight. Tonight was about learning how to finish. And they did learn to finish."
"Tonight we stepped up and grew up," he added.
Down 27-21, Toronto pushed for the win and drove the ball to the Winnipeg 16-yard line as the clock wound down. But Willie Jefferson forced a Bethel-Thompson fumble to snuff out the 12-play, 77-yard drive.
Toronto had one more chance and got it right this time on a 71-yard, nine-play drive.
"This is a long time coming," said Green, who had 10 catches for 120 yards. "It’s been the worst of the worst every game. For us this is the first and biggest win of the year."
Bethel-Thompson noted the win came despite a string of errors.
"We have a lot to get better at. That’s the exciting part. The team that can be in this dressing room is dominant. We have warriors everywhere."
As they did in a 48-21 loss in Winnipeg on July 12, the Argonauts fell behind early. But this time they came back. The Argo offence kept grinding and the defence began to blunt the Bombers (5-2-0).
Trailing 20-0, the Argonauts scored 10 points late in the first half. After a Toronto field goal made it 20-13 early in the third, a 78-yard Chris Rainey punt return took the ball to the Winnipeg seven-yard line. After Derel Walker dropped a pass in the end zone, Toronto won a coach’s challenge on the next play asking for pass interference.
Bethel-Thompson then found six-foot-six, 305-pound lineman Jamal Campbell, an eligible receiver, for a one-yard TD, tying the game at 20-20 midway through the third.
Matt Nichols hit Chris Matthews for a seven-yard strike to put Winnipeg up 27-20 at 2:12 of the fourth after a drive fuelled by Andrew Harris.
A Zack Medeiros single cut the lead to 27-21.
Harris ran for two touchdowns for Winnipeg. Justin Medlock kicked two field goals and added three conversions.
Rodney Scott hauled in a TD pass for Toronto and Tyler Crapigna kicked two field goals and three conversions.
Toronto trailed 13-0 after a first quarter that saw Harris notch his longest run of the season for a 56-yard TD. Harris rushed for 107 yards in the first half alone and 152 in total on 15 carries.
Things went from bad to worse late in the first quarter when Shayne Gauthier blocked a Toronto punt and the Argos were called for intentional grounding on an ugly third down that left the Bombers with the ball on the Argos 16-yard line. The Toronto defence held the visitors to a field goal, however.
Toronto escaped further punishment in the second quarter when Harris fumbled — for the fourth time this season — on the Argos’ seven-yard line. But a 13-yard run by Harris later in the quarter increased the Winnipeg lead.
Toronto finally got on the board late in the half on a 45-yard field goal by Crapigna — the Argos’ first points since the third quarter of a July 18 loss in Calgary.
Smith then capped an eight-play Toronto drive with a 12-yard reception from Bethel-Thompson with 47 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to 20-10.
A Brandon Burks 55-yard TD reception from a Toronto screen pass was called back for holding early in the third quarter. The Argos settled for a field goal, making it 20-13 after a 10-play, 55-yard drive.
Toronto has a bye next week before hosting Edmonton on Aug. 16.
Thursday marked Toronto’s first home game in 26 days. The Argos were coming off a three-game western swing that saw them outscored 100-37 in losses at Winnipeg (48-21), Calgary (26-16) and Edmonton (26-0).
The Argos last posted a regular-season win on Oct. 20, 2018, when they defeated Montreal 26-22 — the lone victory in a 1-9-0 end to the regular season.
Winnipeg saw its five-game win streak snapped last time out in a 23-15 loss in Hamilton.
"We had a tough night last week, we had one tough tonight," said Nichols, who completed 21-of-31 passes for 169 yards. "It’s not a skid, we just haven’t played our best football the last two weeks. It’s just getting back to the details. I’m going to work harder, get the guys around me to work harder, make sure we come back and play better next week. That’s all it is."
The Argos did not announce attendance for a second home game in a row. The crowd was modest, however.