James Franklin threw for 217 yards, tossed a touchdown and ran for another in his starting debut for the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday afternoon. The 26-year-old out-dueled Edmonton’s Mike Reilly, the reigning Most Outstanding Player, in a 20-17 win to give Toronto their first win of the 2018 season.
Franklin established his command of the Argos offence on the first drive after kickoff, leading a 76-yard charge to the end zone in nine plays in which James Wilder Jr. ran with poise. Franklin capped off the series with a two-yard scramble into the end zone to give Toronto a 6-0 lead before Reilly touched the ball.
The Eskimos’ pivot didn’t keep the ball for long, though. On a first-down handoff to C.J. Gable, Argos linebacker Cassius Vaughn forced a fumble that was quickly snapped up by teammate Shawn Lemon.
Toronto made the Esks pay for that early mistake after they took over on Edmonton’s 35 yard line. Franklin connected with Armanti Edwards for a 30-yard highlight-reel pitch-and-grab, then Wilder Jr. trotted across the goal line from five yards away to put Toronto up 12-0.
Reilly was able to mount a response on the ensuing drive, but Eskimos kicker Sean Whyte missed a 32-yard field goal attempt and had to settle for a rouge.
After the Argos pinned the Eskimos’ offence at their own two-yard line, Reilly refocussed the Esks offence and led a 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive ending with Whyte converting a 33-yard field goal to cut Toronto’s lead to 12-4 early in the second quarter.
As the Eskimos defense finally began to slow Franklin down, Reilly continued to pierce the Argos’ defense with his passing prowess. He brought the Eskimos all the way to the goal line, but after a touchdown was called back due to an offensive holding penalty, Reilly was intercepted in the end zone by Toronto defensive back Ronnie Yell.
Penalties slowed down the pace of the first half, but the Eskimos were able to edge back with a 40-yard field goal from Whyte to narrow the deficit to 12-7 at halftime.
Franklin showed some spark early in the third quarter, launching a 50-yard pass to Llevi Noel, but was intercepted two plays later by Maurice McKnight.
On the ensuing Eskimos drive, Reilly and Kenny Stafford connected for their own 50-yard completion. The big gain led to a 24-yard touchdown pass from Reilly to Derel Walker, giving Edmonton a 14-12 lead, their first of the game.
In search of a response, the Argos could not find one from Franklin and the offence. A nine-yard sack by Esks lineman Mark Mackie halted one drive, a two-and-out halted another. Meanwhile, Whyte nailed another 41-yard field goal to increase the Eskimos lead to 17-12 early in the fourth quarter.
As the urgency deepened, Wilder Jr. and Franklin were finally able to re-capture their first-quarter momentum. They moved the Argos from their own 35 yard line deep into Eskimos territory, aided by a four-yard sneak by Franklin on third down to extend the drive.
The 75-yard journey was capped off by a five-yard touchdown pass to Declan Cross, which pulled the Argos back ahead 20-17 following a two-point conversion, The crowd of 12,196 at BMO Field was re-ignited, and helped Toronto force an Eskimos punt on the ensuing drive.
With the ball back in Franklin’s hands, the Argos advanced the ball efficiently and left the Eskimos without any time to mount a comeback. Wilder Jr. finished the contest with 21 rushes for 120 yards and a touchdown on the ground, plus another 27 yards through the air. Reilly passed for 370 yards and a touchdown, while Duke Williams led all receivers with 125 yards.
The Argos and Eskimos have less than a week to prepare for their Week 5 rematch on July 13 in Edmonton.