TORONTO – It was the final dress rehearsal for a pair of playoff teams on Friday night as the East Division champion Toronto Argonauts played host to the Montreal Alouettes at Rogers Centre.
With a bye week on the horizon, the Argonauts elected to rest most of their starters on Friday night, including quarterback Ricky Ray, who is coming off a career-high 505-yard passing performance against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in last week’s division-clinching victory.
In Ray’s absence, sophomore pivot Zach Collaros started under centre for the Double Blue. Quarterback’s Trevor Harris and Mitchell Gale were also thrust into action throughout the course of the game.
However, it was the Argonauts’ defence that made their presence felt early on during Friday night’s game as Matt Black intercepted Alouettes quarterback Troy Smith and ensued to take it back 62 yards into the end zone, giving Toronto an early 7-0 lead.
The interception was Black’s second of the season and the Argonauts’ third pick-six thus far in 2013.
Looking to add on to their early lead, Jerious Norwood reeled off an impressive 60-yard rush, positioning the Double Blue at the Alouettes’ 45-yard line. However, following an 11-yard first down reception from Darvin Adams, the drive stalled, leaving rookie kicker Quinn Sharp with a 28-yard field goal attempt. Sharp’s ensuing kick clanked off of the upright before falling down onto the turf, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Argos’ newly signed kicker redeemed himself for his earlier miscue shortly thereafter as he connected on a 42-yard field goal, extending the Argonauts’ lead to 10-0.
The drive spelled the end of Zach Collaros’ night as Trevor Harris entered the game in relief of the Argos’ backup signal caller. In one quarter of action, Collaros completed 6 of 10 pass attempts for 64 yards.
The Alouettes offence, meanwhile, sputtered early on but managed to find the end zone less than two and a half minutes into the second quarter as Troy Smith connected with Duron Carter for a 71-yard touchdown, cutting the Als’ lead to 10-7.
The touchdown was Carter’s fifth of the season and second in as many games. Carter concluded the game with three receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Argonauts defensive back Branden Smith coughed up the football as Alouettes linebacker Nicolas Boulay recovered the fumble, setting up Troy Smith and the Montreal offence deep in Argonauts territory.
Smith converted the turnover into points as he spotted Bo Bowling for a short two-yard touchdown reception, putting the Alouettes ahead 14-10.
For Bowling, the touchdown reception was his first of the season.
Looking to recapture the lead, Trevor Harris delivered a strike into the hands of John Chiles for a 40-yard gain, putting the Argonauts on the Alouettes side of midfield. However, the drive ultimately stalled, forcing the Double Blue into a punting situation. Quinn Sharp’s 45-yard boot rolled into the end zone, resulting in a single-point, cutting the Argos’ deficit to 14-11.
The Alouettes responded with a single-point of their own as Sean Whyte missed a 39-yard field goal attempt. Deep in the back of his end zone, Argonauts kick returner Trent Guy elected to take a knee and concede the single-point, putting Montreal ahead 15-11 heading into halftime.
The Argonauts reclaimed the lead midway through the third quarter as Trevor Harris engineered a methodical 10-play, 76-yard drive capped off by Darvin Adams’ 11-yard touchdown. Quinn Sharp’s extra point was blocked, keeping Montreal’s deficit to 17-15.
The touchdown was Adams’ first as a member of the Double Blue as the Argos’ rookie concluded the game with three receptions for 24 yards and one touchdown.
The scoring drive marked the end of Trevor Harris’ night as Mitchell Gale replaced the Argos’ second-year pivot on the team’s following offensive possession. Harris completed 6 of 10 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Pinned at their three-yard line to begin the fourth quarter, Montreal elected to concede a safety, stretching Toronto’s lead to 19-15.
The offences traded several two-and-out’s before the Argonauts added a single-point as Quinn Sharp failed to connect on a 40-yard field goal, extending the Boatmen’s lead to 20-15.
However, the Alouettes answered back with a decisive blow as Troy Smith orchestrated a three-play, 74-yard drive capped off by Arland Bruce’s 37-yard touchdown. Smith then scampered into the end zone for the two-point conversion, putting Montreal out in front 23-20 with less than two minutes remaining in the football game.
Hugo Lopez took a costly roughing the kicker penalty, which resulted in an automatic first down for the Alouettes, allowing Montreal to run out the remainder of the clock and preserve the 23-20 victory.
Troy Smith completed 15 of 28 pass attempts for 197 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception as Jim Popp elected to stick with his starting quarterback for the entirety of the football game.
The Alouettes will travel to Guelph for next weekend’s CFL Eastern Semi-Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while the Argonauts will meet of the winner of that matchup in the Eastern Final on Sunday, November 17 at Rogers Centre.