Game one of the five game road trip to start the Argo’s season is in the books and it was a resounding victory for the “home” team the Argonauts 26 – 11. That’s right, this game played in Fort McMurray, Alberta was technically a home game for the Argos according to the CFL. Never before has a professional football team played 5 games in a row on the road or 8 of their first 10 on the road. A lot of teams might just throw up their hands and start looking toward next season and use it as a crutch or excuse for the losing such a schedule would force upon the team.
One game does not a season make, but the 2015 Argonauts are built for this. The previous two seasons have seen the Argos play 4 game road trips. Their record in those 8 games? 6 wins and 2 losses. Not bad. Winning on the road in football is hard especially on extended road trips like those. Only three other times in CFL history prior to 2013 has a team had to play 4 games in a row on the road and the best any team could do were the 1967 Calgary Stampeders at 2-2. No team in the NFL has ever been forced to play 4 games on the road. That represents 25% of their schedule. This 5 game road trip for Toronto represents 28% of their season. Let me put this in other sports terms…This would be like the Maple Leafs playing 23 games straight away from ACC, or the Blue Jays playing 45 games away. Now tell me how good a chance those teams would have of making the playoffs if they were forced into that situation. The Argos are now 7-2 on their three-year combined mega road trips. This is astounding and certainly worthy of some local media attention as their historic journey continues.
On to how and why they won. 4th year quarterback Trevor Harris in only his second professional start was the player of the game. He had the second best completion record in Argonaut history, he completed 24 of 27 passes for 347 yards, 3 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Who holds the record for best game in Argo history? That would be Ricky Ray who Harris has been backing up for the last 4 years and who was on the sidelines providing advice and guidance to the 29-year-old. Ray is on the 6 game injured list and with Harris embarking on his coming out party does not need to force himself back until his body is fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
Harris had lots of help from the offence he guided. In all, 8 receivers caught passes led by Chad Owens with 7 catches for 99 yards. At running back with less than a week since joining the team after being cut by Montreal, Brandon Whitaker had 117 yards rushing on 14 carries, plus added a receiving touchdown of 57 yards. Veteran receiver Andre Durie also had 7 receptions for 63 yards.
The offence put up those numbers against statistically the best defence in the CFL. The Eskimos led in most defensive categories in 2014. The Edmonton head coach is Chris Jones the defensive guru who helped guide Toronto to the 100th Grey Cup in 2012.
Defensively, the Argos smothered a good Eskimo offence. Led by tough as nails quarterback Mike Reilly, they could not get anything going against Toronto. Edmonton completed only 50% of their passes for 178 yds and running back Chad Simpson only picked up 33 yds on the ground. The Argos only registered 3 sacks but there was steady pressure from the defensive line, the linebackers shut down the run and short passing attack while the new defensive backs were outstanding in their coverage. 2014 CFL leading receiver Adarius Bowman was held to 6 catches and 61 yards. Every member of Toronto’s D registered tackles and rarely were Edmonton ball carriers not gang tackled. The defense played fast and aggressive and played as a unit. Considering how many new faces there are on defense, this bodes well as the season progresses.
The final score flattered Edmonton as the Argos lost all-star punter/kicker Swayze Waters to injury in the first half. With receiver Dave Stala filling in Toronto opted not to attempt field goals unless they were from close range. There were drives that would have resulted in points had Waters been in the game. Stala did an admirable job with a 35 yard punting average. Waters punting average when he left the game was 50.5 yards. Hopefully his leg injury is not too severe, the Argos need his strong leg on this gruelling road trip. A key to winning on the road are strong special teams.
One last observation on yesterday’s game. The crowd in attendance. There were maybe 5,000 spectators in a stadium that could hold over 10,000. Why? Fort McMurray is 400 km north of Edmonton. This is a fan base that supposedly travels well (to Regina, to Calgary, to Grey Cups). Where were they? This was the first game of the year, did Eskimo fans not miss their team after a long off-season. Fort McMurray has a population of over 60,000 people. Where were they? What else was going on in Fort McMurray yesterday? Do you honestly have that many other things to do? And CFL head office. You scheduled Toronto to have a home game 4,000 km from home, the least you could have done was sell some tickets and promote within the community there to create a buzz. This is the home of our oil sands with energy companies a plenty. Where was their corporate representation. Very disappointing from a fan perspective. A lost opportunity on many fronts to grow the game.
From an Argo perspective it just meant that crowd noise was a non factor, because had the stadium been full it would have been a pro Eskimo crowd.
Scott Ford – Argo’s Admiral’s