Monday, November 27, 2017

Toronto Argonauts: 2017 Grey Cup Champions



OTTAWA — Cassius Vaughn tied the game on a late 109-yard fumble return touchdown while Ricky Ray did the rest, leading the Toronto Argonauts to a stunning come-from-behind win in the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.

Shania Twain rocked a sold out crowd of 36,154 at Ottawa’s TD Place at halftime, but in the end it was the underdog Argos stealing the thunder, erasing a late-game deficit and winning 27-24 thanks to a play that won’t soon be forgotten.

With the Stampeders up a touchdown and inside the Argo 10, Kamar Jorden fumbled the football and Vaughn returned it the distance, tying the game and leading to one of the most dramatic late-game turnarounds in CFL history.

Lirim Hajrullahu kicked the go-ahead points with 0:49 remaining, then, with the Stamps threatening, Matt Black hauled in the game-clinching interception in the end zone.

Ray threw for 297 yards and a touchdown on 19-of-32 passing, becoming the all-time leader in Grey Cup wins for a starting quarterback with four.

DeVier Posey was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after catching seven passes for 175 yards and a touchdown, including a Grey Cup record 100-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter.

Bo Levi Mitchell had an efficient game for the Stamps, completing 33 of 45 passes for 373 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Running back Jerome Messam was named Most Valuable Canadian for the Stamps, scoring once each through the air and on the ground while adding 62 rushing yards on 12 carries.

The ball-handlers struggled to adapt to the slippery conditions their first time out on the field. The first passing attempt of the game by Mitchell slipped right through the hands of Marquay McDaniel, which was a sign of things to come, while on the next play Cleyon Laing made the Stamps pay with the game’s first sack.

Rob Maver‘s ensuing punt was mishandled by Armanti Edwards, but the Argos were able to avoid catastrophe by recovering the fumble and then punting after just two offensive plays.

It was midway through the first quarter when the Stamps’ offence finally got moving. DaVaris Daniels made an acrobatic grab over the middle to give the drive life, while the game would see its first big play on the game’s first gamble by Head Coach Dave Dickenson.

After a misstep saw Mitchell tackled in the backfield on second down, the Stamps went for third-and-three and off a play-action fake to Messam, Jorden caught the swing pass and beat the corner to the sideline, running 33 yards for the game’s first score.

The Stamps missed the two-point try after Mitchell’s pass struck the upright, but opened up a 6-0 lead nonetheless.

While the Argo offence struggled through the first quarter, lightning struck on the opening play of quarter No. 2. On second down, Ray dropped back and found Posey in single coverage, with the second-year burner going 100 yards on the game’s most electrifying play.

Posey’s touchdown was the longest in Grey Cup history, while Hajrullahu’s extra point missed the uprights, leaving the game six-apiece.

After two long scoring plays, the Stampeders answered with a methodical drive. Mitchell picked up two quick first downs with completions to Daniels and McDaniel, then it was time for the power running game.

Messam’s 15-yard gain put the Stamps deep inside scoring range before Rob Cote‘s 13-yard catch-and-run moved the sticks on second-and-three. On the very next play, the Stamps’ bell cow back in Messam powered his way towards the goal line and was able to stretch for the score, capping an eight-play, 70-yard drive.

Mitchell and Daniels connected on the two-point conversion, putting the Stamps back in the driver’s seat 14-6.

Calgary’s first mistake of the came soon after. The long snap to Maver went over the punter’s head, forcing him to retreat for the loose ball and safely kick it out of the back of the end zone.

The weather continued to get the best of both offences throughout the rest of the second quarter, with a game-changing play coming in half’s final moment. Rory Kohlert had the ball punched from his grasp, yet was able to out-race two Argos to the football to get the ball back and avoid a big play the other way.

That resulted in an eventual 39-yard field goal by Rene Paredes on the half’s last play, extending the Stamps’ lead to 17-8 at the half and marking a potential massive swing.

With the snowfall receding, the Argos’ offence came out of the gate with a jump in its step in the third. A little misdirection led to a 27-yard pickup by Declan Cross on first down, moving the Argos past their own 45 and into Calgary territory for the first time in the game.

Ray went to Posey twice more after that, including for a 27-yard pickup down to the Calgary two-yard-line. That set up a second-down touchdown plunge by Wilder and a two-point conversion from Cross, giving the Argos a quick eight points and cutting their deficit to 17-16.

Wilder’s first touchdown of the game capped off a nine-play, 74-yard drive over the span of 4:31.

The Stampeders’ offence picked up the momentum from there. Mitchell completed passes to Daniels, McDaniel and Juwan Brescacin to move into Argos territory, while a pass interference challenge by Dickenson was successful, moving the Stamps down to the Argo five.

One play later, Messam caught a swing pass from Mitchell and kept his balance along with his feet in bounds, scoring his second touchdown of the game to extend Calgary’s lead to eight points.

The 24-16 score carried into the fourth quarter, with the yards harder to come by against either of these two stingy defences.

In the fourth, a close call came for the Stampeders when Roy Finch mishandled Hajrullahu’s punt. Llevi Noel couldn’t pick it up while a scrum ensued, but the Stamps were able to recover at their own 25 with 8:30 remaining.

That proved to be a key play in the game, because on the very next play Mitchell found Marken Michel with a step on Argos corner Akwasi Owusu-Ansah for a 50-yard gain. A pass interference penalty moved the Stamps even closer, while Daniels’ 10th catch of the game converted another first down at the Argo eight.

Next came the play that would define the 105th Grey Cup. After catching a swing pass, Jorden looked for extra yards but had the ball knocked from his grasp. There to pick it up was Vaughn, who scooped up the fumble, eluded a defender along the sideline and sprinted 110 yards for the longest defensive touchdown in CFL history.

Ray rolled away from pressure and found Cross for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 24 apiece in a stunning turn of events.

The Stamps went two-and-out while a connection with Posey in space got the Argos across the 50. On an ensuing second down, Ray stayed in a rhythm, finding S.J. Green for a 10-yard pickup and another first down.

Another completion to Posey, the receiver’s sixth of the game, eventually set up a 32-yard field goal by Hajrullahu, putting the Argos ahead for the first time in the game, 27-24 with 0:49 remaining.

However, the Stampeders were not done there. After wearing the goat horns previously, Jorden found some redemption, getting open and making an acrobatic grab at the Argo 30.

Two plays later, however, on second-and-five, Mitchell went for the home run but was intercepted by Matt Black in the end zone, clinching a dramatic victory for the Argos.

Daniels had 11 catches for 113 yards to lead the Stamps, while Jorden hauled in six passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Argos dynamic running back Wilder was limited, at least outside of his touchdown, managing 13 yards on nine carries along with 18 receiving yards on two catches.

The Stampeders doubled the Argos in first downs, 24-12, while racking up 401 net yards to Toronto’s 299.

Yet at the end of the day, a clean pocket for Ray, who was sacked only once in the game, helped the Argos’ offence move the ball when it needed to, taking advantage of the two-score swing caused by Vaughn’s touchdown. The drive that set up Hajrullah’s field goal was the 43rd game-winning drive of Ray’s illustrious career.

Meanwhile, the eight-point deficit the Argos erased was the fourth-largest in the fourth quarter in Grey Cup history.

For Calgary, it’s a bitter defeat for the second straight season. Last year marked the single greatest upset in CFL history, when the 15-2-1 Stamps were taken down 39-33 in overtime by the 8-9-1 REDBLACKS.

While the Argos won the East with a 9-9 record, however, that’s not indicative of their play of late. With Sunday’s win, Trestman’s team has now won seven of its last nine games.

The victory caps off an impressive turnaround season for Trestman and Jim Popp, who took over late in the off-season and led the Boatmen from a five-win season to a Grey Cup Championship.
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