TORONTO – Less than a week removed from their 2015 home opener, a nail-biting 30-26 victory over the woeful Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Argonauts return to the gridiron on Friday night, as they travel to Winnipeg for a primetime tilt against the Blue Bombers.
Through seven weeks, the Argonauts (4-2) sit in a three-way tie atop the CFL’s Eastern Division. The Boatmen boast an explosive offensive attack, paced by fourth-year pivot Trevor Harris. On Saturday night, at the Rogers Centre, Harris, 29, overcame a pedestrian first half en route to his third consecutive 300-yard passing performance.
The Argos’ six-foot-three, 213-pound field general currently leads the CFL in passing yards (1,819), completion percentage (75%), touchdown passes (14) and passer efficiency rating (115.4).
Saturday night’s game against the ‘Riders was a tale of two halves. The Double Blue sputtered out of the gate, committing undisciplined penalties and struggling to sustain offensive drives. The Argos and Roughriders combined for 43 penalties, totalling 367 yards. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah’s first career pick-six, which occurred midway through the third quarter, re-energized the Boatmen, sparking a 22-point second half outburst.
When rookie wideout Diontae Spencer marched into the end zone with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, an electrifying 52-yard gallop, it exemplified the Argos’ tenacious, resilient disposition. Starting in place of injured slotback Chad Owens, the 23-year-old speedster hauled in five passes for 94 yards receiving and one touchdown.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Argonauts got the job done, defeating the ‘Riders in a flag-happy affair, a gritty effort which showcased the Boatmen’s championship pedigree.
“We found a way to win another game in a difficult week, and for that, I was proud,” commented Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich following Monday’s practice. “Our guys are learning how to win at the end of games. That’s something you have to learn in order to be a good team, to be able to do it when it matters most, and when the pressure’s on.”
The Argonauts, like many other CFL teams, have been plagued by injuries in 2015. The latest casualty is rookie wide receiver Kevin Elliott, who sustained a rib injury during Saturday’s game against Saskatchewan. He is currently listed as doubtful for Friday night’s contest in Winnipeg.
As for the aforementioned Chad Owens, the 33-year-old playmaker will miss his second consecutive game due to a nagging ankle ailment. In addition, the Boatmen will also be without the services of centre Jeff Keeping, who will be sidelined for at least six weeks after suffering a shoulder injury during the Argonauts’ Week Six showdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Similarly, the Blue Bombers (3-4) have also been decimated by injuries. Franchise quarterback Drew Willy will be out for approximately six-to-eight weeks after sustaining a partial PCL tear and tibial plateau fracture in his right knee, an injury which occurred during the third quarter of the Bombers’ 38-8 loss in Hamilton on Sunday.
Additionally, sophomore tailback Paris Cotton will be out indefinitely after exiting Sunday’s game with an arm injury. Wide receiver Darvin Adams, meanwhile, is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks after suffering an apparent upper-body injury against the Tabbies.
With Willy on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the focus now shifts to his replacement, second-year pivot Robert Marve. The 26-year-old gunslinger is a fan favourite in Winnipeg and will be making his first career CFL start on Friday night, at Investors Group Field, against the Argonauts.
“He’s been working hard since he’s been with us. It’s his time,” declared Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “We need to see what we have in Robert, too. He needs to get out there and play, and get live reps, and show us what he’s got.”
“Robert’s going to run the offence the way he’s going to run it, and there’s going to be an element of creativity there,” added O’Shea. “I’m sure he’s going to run it well and it’ll have Robert Marve’s stamp on it.”
On the surface, it appears as though the Argonauts possess a distinct advantage over the Blue Bombers, primarily as a result of Winnipeg’s current injury situation. However, with limited intel on the Bombers’ newly-minted starting quarterback, the Argos’ defence faces a significant challenge as they attempt to stymie an unpredictable Winnipeg offence.
If the Argonauts’ defensive front four can break contain and wreak havoc in the backfield, the Double Blue secondary, which welcomes back a pair of ball-hawking stalwarts in Jermaine Gabriel and Matt Black, will have an opportunity to generate turnovers and spoil Marve’s CFL starting debut.
Friday night’s game will serve as a special homecoming for Winnipeg native Anthony Coombs. The Argos’ second-year slotback, who resides in Winnipeg during the off-season, will be playing in front of family and friends, and says he is looking forward to suiting up against his hometown team.
“I’m excited to get out there and play where I used to play college ball, in my hometown with everybody watching me,” proclaimed Coombs, who makes his return to the Argos’ starting lineup on Friday after missing last week’s home opener due to concussion-like symptoms. “I know my friends have been counting down the days because they don’t get to see me play that much. My family travels to Toronto sometimes but this is going to be a good moment for me coming back home.”
The Argonauts have won eight of their last 10 meetings against Winnipeg. In 2014, the Boatmen and Bombers split their season series with each team winning at home.
Can the Argonauts improve to 5-2 and continue their reign atop the CFL’s Eastern Division, or will the Blue Bombers return to .500 and head into their bye week on a high note?
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST. The game can be viewed live on TSN and heard on TSN 1050 Radio.
We invite you to join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtags, #ArgosLive and #OURTeam.
Argonauts quarterback Trevor Harris has thrown for 300+ yards in four of his last six games.
Statistically, Vidal Hazelton has been the Argonauts’ most sure-handed receiver in 2015, hauling in 28 receptions on 43 targets (65%).
The Argonauts currently rank first in the CFL in red zone offence, boasting a touchdown success rate of 71%.
Middle linebacker Greg Jones currently sits fourth in the CFL in defensive tackles with 37, an average of 6.2 tackles per game. Presently, Jones, 26, is on pace to register in excess of 100 tackles.