Argonauts down Alouettes 34-27 to advance to Grey Cup game

TORONTO — It’s taken five years but McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the Toronto Argonauts are making a return to the Gray Cup. Bethel-Thompson threw two touchdown passes as Toronto earned a 34-27 East Division Finals win over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday.

TORONTO — It’s taken five years but McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the Toronto Argonauts are making a return to the Gray Cup.

Bethel-Thompson threw two touchdown passes as Toronto earned a 34-27 East Division Finals win over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday. The Argos will make their first trip to the Gray Cup since winning it in 2017.

Bethel-Thompson was Toronto’s backup quarterback that year. Hall of Famer Ricky Ray led the Argos to a 27-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.

“It’s the Gray Cup, it’s like any other game but it’s not,” said Bethel Thompson. “My first year up here in 2017 saw how the team works, the brotherhood that was built and what it took to get there.

“It’s been a long five years to come back. It’s exciting, but it’s just an opportunity. We know if we go there and don’t perform, it will all be for naught.”

Toronto meets Winnipeg next weekend at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. The Blue Bombers will be chasing a third straight Gray Cup after beating the BC Lions 28-20 in the West Division Finals.

And that’s going to get a very interesting story rolling, as Toronto running back Andrew Harris, a native of Winnipeg, helped the Blue Bombers win their last two Gray Cups before joining the Argos in free hands.

Toronto set the tone early against Montreal, walking with a 14-3 advantage in the first quarter in a brisk wind that blew over 25 mph before gathering a season-high 21,331 in the BMO field. The Argos had the wind and a 34-24 lead heading into the fourth before David Cote’s 35-yard field goal at 10:53 reduced Montreal’s deficit to 34-27.

But the Argos, who only punched twice, were running out of time. They were helped by a crucial face mask penalty from Mike Moore after Harris was briefly stopped on a second down play.

“It’s tremendous, it’s something you have to do as a championship team,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of his late-game offense’s ball control. “We had a good plan for it, the boys implemented it.

“We got the face mask, which helped us there, but we would score a field goal if we didn’t get it (the face mask call). It was a team win and I’m proud of these guys. They were focused and we’re going to Regina.”

Toronto also hosted last year’s final in the East, losing to Hamilton 27-19. Her points came from kicker Boris Bede (six field goals, single).

Dinwiddie said this week it’s imperative that his offensive-score touchdowns be made against Montreal and not settle for field goals.

“I think it’s our best offensive performance in the last two seasons,” said Dinwiddie, who is also Toronto’s offensive coordinator. “I thought Mac had a damn good game and everyone on offense played great.

“It was a team win and the defense pulled it off when we were fourth.”

Toronto lost standout linebacker Wynton McManis (suspected bicep tear). McManis, who had a team-high 88 tackles this season, was playing after missing four games with a knee condition.

“It’s unfortunate for Wynton,” said Dinwiddie. “He has brought a lot to our organization and without him we are not sitting here now.

“We have to find a way to not win him. It’s just that.”

Bethel-Thompson, who threw for a CFL-high 4,731 yards this season, finished 19 of 27 with 299 yards and the two TDs. Harris rushed nine times for 42 yards and a touchdown in his first game since suffering a pectoral muscle tear that required surgery in August.

DaVaris Daniels registered three catches for 108 yards, 46 came on a second and short touchdown pass from backup Chad Kelly that gave Toronto a 21-3 lead in the second.

AJ Ouellette and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. scored Toronto’s other TDs. Bede had four converts and two field goals.

William Stanback and Tyson Philpot had Montreal’s touchdowns, with Philpot adding a two-point converter. Cote started one convert and four field goals.

Danny Maciocia, GM/Interim Montreal head coach, said that not being able to use the wind early didn’t help the Alouettes.

“I figured with the downwind we’d try to jump them early, but they made the jump,” he said. “We responded back (in third place) but we had to counter, we needed a stop and when we needed that stop we didn’t get it.

“You have to give them credit. You could answer.”

Montreal pulled downwind on Stanback’s 52-yard TD run at 1:06 of the third to 24-21 before Trevor Harris found Philpot on the two-point converter. But Toronto recorded Bede’s 25-yard field goal at 4:41 for a 27-21 lead.

The loss marred a solid performance from Harris, who completed 25 of 30 passes for 362 yards and a TD. Stanback rushed for 82 yards on 12 carries while Philpot had eight catches for 127 yards.

“It’s hard to think about right now,” Harris said. “When you fall short like that, it hurts.”

Harris felt that if Montreal had gotten the ball back, the offense would have scored to force overtime.

“To be honest I’m not sure how much of an answer they had for us offensively,” he said. “I felt like we would still move the ball and get a touchdown whenever we needed it.

“It was just about getting the opportunity.”

Cote connected from 32 yards at 10:09 of the third to reduce Toronto’s lead to 27-24. But Bethel-Thompson found Gittens Jr. with a 31-yard touchdown pass to end the quarter and give the Argos a 10-point lead.

Cote’s 30-yard field goal at 2:45 p.m. of the second cut Toronto’s half-time lead to 24-13. The Alouettes drove as far as the Argos 10-yard line before giving up back-to-back sacks to opt downwind for Cote’s boat.

Bede’s 13-yard field goal at 12:15 gave Toronto a 24-10 lead after Harris found Philpot at 8:26 with a 36-yard touchdown pass.

Bethel-Thompson’s seven-yard TD pass to Ouellette at 1:01 of the first gave Toronto a 14-3 lead. It was set up by Royce Metchie’s recovery from Kalon Julien-Grant’s fumble and then his cross from DaShaun Amos, who was tackled at the Montreal 51-yard line.

The touchdown came after Cote’s 25-yard field goal at 8:27 cut the Argos’ lead to 7-3. Harris opened the scoring with a six-yard TD run at 5:27 to cap Toronto’s opening 6-play, 79-yard drive.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 13, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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