Newcomers, Harris lead Argos over Esks in Fort McMurray
Trevor Harris was on point while the newcomers came up big, powering the Toronto Argonauts to a 26-11 season-opening win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday evening in Fort McMurray.
The Eskimos lost not only the game but potentially their starting quarterback, meanwhile, as Mike Reilly left the game late in the fourth quarter after suffering an apparent knee injury. The extend of the injury is unknown.With starting quarterback Ricky Ray on the shelf and an infusion of new talent on both sides of the ball, the Argos rose to the challenge in their ‘home opener’ away from home, scoring a pair of second-half touchdowns to separate themselves from the Eskimos and start the season off on the right foot.
Harris, the heir apparent to Ray making just his second career start, threw for 347 yards on 24-of-27 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions to stymie the CFL’s top-ranked pass defence in 2014. Recent addition Brandon Whitaker caught one of those touchdown passes as did rookie receivers Vidal Hazelton and Tori Gurley, while Dave Stala took on kicking and punting duties after Swayze Waters left the game due to injury.
Reilly threw for 170 yards on 16-of-28 passing with one touchdown in the loss before leaving the game, while Kenny Stafford caught his first touchdown in Green and Gold -- but in the end the Edmonton offence just couldn’t do enough against an aggressive, new-look Argo defence.
After a first-half stalemate, a fast-moving Eskimos’ drive ended abruptly on a Reilly fumble recovered by Brandon Isaac, back in an Argo uniform after a two-year absence. The Argos opened things up after that with the deep ball, and making the big play was a big rookie receiver in Kevin Elliott.
Elliott stretched all the way out to haul in a highlight-reel grab from Harris for a 53-yard gain, and on the next play Harris connected with rookie receiver Hazelton for a 1-yard touchdown pass, giving the Argos a 16-10 third-quarter lead.
On the first play of the fourth quarter Harris came up big again, threading the needle to Chad Owens in the seam for a 34-yard gain down to the Edmonton 18 on Owens’ fifth catch of the game. Harris then went straight to another rookie receiver in Gurley on the corner route, who hauled in the pass over Patrick Watkins for a 17-yard touchdown reception.
The Argos converted on the two-point try and Harris’ third touchdown pass of the game made it 25-11 early in the fourth quarter.
Looking to battle back quickly, the Eskimos got their offence moving again after a 26-yard reception by Stafford, his fourth catch of the game. But with nine minutes remaining, a third-down gamble came up short as Jordan Lynch was stopped a yard shy of the first down marker.
Edmonton had one last chance, down two possessions and getting the ball back with just over six minutes remaining. A fumbled punt and Argo recovery led to receiver-turned-kicker Stala's first career field goal try, but the veteran pulled the kick wide left. A single point on the miss made it 26-11 Argos.
Ricky who? Trevor Harris had himself a day in his second career start, throwing for 347 yards on 24-of-27 passing with three touchdowns.
The Eskimos looked again to rally with just under four minutes remaining, starting with a completion to Adarius Bowman for a first down out of the gate. With the gain on the play also came a key loss, however, as Reilly was injured on the play after the tackle by Cleyon Laing. Laing was hit with a roughing the passer penalty, moving Edmonton up the field with Matt Nichols entering the game.
Nichols failed to continue the drive from there, while the Argo defence held the Green and Gold offence virtually scoreless in the entire second half (one single was all the Eskimos could muster) to hold on for the 26-11 victory.
The northern-most regular season game in CFL history was an Argos home game and it started out slowly. After both teams moved the ball out of the gate but couldn't finish drives with touchdowns, a muffed punt return by Owens set up the game's first major, a 26-yard touchdown grab by Stafford, the second of his career and his first as an Eskimo.
Down 7-3, the Argos responded quickly on the first quarter's final play. Harris found Whitaker on a wheel route down the sideline and the former Alouettes running back sprinted in open field for a 57-yard touchdown, making it 10-7 Toronto.
While the Eskimos tied it heading into the half, the Argo newcomers made all the difference after that as Gurley and Hazelton scored their first career touchdowns to give Toronto a league it would not relinquish.
Meanwhile, Harris took full advantage of only his second career start. Harris completed 15 of his first 16 passes for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns, all against the CFL’s leading secondary in 2014 -- one that allowed an average of 206.7 passing yards per game in and 54.7 per cent completion percentage, both tops in the league.
In his first game as an Argo after being released by Montreal following pre-season, Whitaker rushed for 117 yards on 14 carries and chipped in 57 yards and a touchdown on one reception, totalling 174 yards in his Double Blue debut. Owens was the game's leading receiver, meanwhile, with 99 yards on seven catches.
Bowman, last year the CFL's leading receiver, finished with six catches for 61 yards while Chad Simpson had 33 yards on the ground.
The Argos hit the road next Sunday to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders looking to build on an excellent start, while the Eskimos get a week off to reflect before playing their home opener vs. the Ottawa REDBLACKS on July 9.