TORONTO – The Toronto Argonauts are Ricky Ray’s team heading into the CFL playoffs.
Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich proclaimed Ray his post-season starter Friday night after the Argos’ 21-11 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before 17,511 spectators in their final game at Rogers Centre.
Ray looked sharp in his second straight start, completing 9-of-12 passes for 89 yards and a TD to stake Toronto to an early 9-3 lead in the second quarter before giving way to Trevor Harris.
Harris, who started the Argos’ first 16 games, was 14-of-21 passing for 210 yards with a touchdown and league-leading 19th interception.
“I felt pretty strongly Ricky was going to be the (playoff) starter but I did want to see what happened tonight,” Milanovich said. “I thought he looked sharp.”
And anxious to let go. On Toronto’s first play from scrimmage, Ray went deep to Kenny Shaw but it was incomplete.
“What that told me was Ricky was itching to throw it deep because it wasn’t even the right read,” Milanovich said with a chuckle. “It was one of those soft zone looks that I tell you guys
about and you wonder why we’re checking the ball down.
“That’s what he should’ve done. He was itching to cut one loose deep and it looked good . . . it looked strong.”
The game was Toronto’s last at Rogers Centre after 27 seasons. The Argos will move into a refurbished BMO Field next season having compiled a 122-96-1 record at the dome.
It was a physical affair as receiver Kevin Elliott and defensive backs Isaiah Green and Devin Smith all suffering injuries for Toronto. That’s why Milanovich took Ray out early.
“You certainly don’t want to lose your quarterback,” he said. “You want to play to win . . . but there’s a certain responsibility from my chair that you’ve got to have your quarterback be able to line up next week.”
Milanovich also erred on the side of caution with kicker/punter Swayze Waters, opting against having him play after Waters experienced tightness prior to the game. So Justin Palardy handled the kicking duties.
“Swayze could’ve played,” Milanovich said. “I just didn’t want to risk him pulling something and being injured next week.”
Toronto (10-8) finished third in the East Division and will travel to either Hamilton or Ottawa for the conference semifinal next weekend. While playing outdoors is always a concern for a dome team, being on the road won’t be for the Argos.
Toronto played four of its nine home games on the road this year due to scheduling issues at Rogers Centre. Overall, the Argos were 7-6 outside of the GTA.
“We definitely have a lot of experience with that this year,” Ray said. “We’ve been able to do that all year long so this team is ready for it.”
Toronto came in averaging a CFL-worst 72.4 yards rushing but had 155 yards against Winnipeg. Chad Kackert recorded a game-high 89 yards on 10 carries while Curtis Steele added 54 yards on 11 attempts.
“To see both of those guys run the ball the way they did, particularly there at the very end when you had to do it, that’s playoff football,” Milanovich said. “Teams that can to do that are able to get wins in tight games at the end.”
Kackert said a solid ground game can definitely pay off when the weather turns foul come playoff time.
“It just balances the attack,” said the 2012 Grey Cup MVP. “You can do so much more if the run game works.”
Winnipeg (5-13) ended its season with a third straight loss to finish fourth in the West Division and out of the post-season. But Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who played 12 seasons at linebacker in Toronto, was inducted as an All-Time Argo at halftime.
Winnipeg rookie Dominique Davis, in his first CFL start, was 16-of-25 passing for 169 yards but watched the final minutes of the game from the sidelines with ice taped to his right hamstring.
“It’s been this way all season, just one play short or not being able to finish,” O’Shea said. “We had our opportunities, especially early on.
“I would’ve traded seeing that (All-Time Argo) banner for a win.”
Palardy booted two field goals, a convert and two singles.
Sergio Castillo accounted for all of Winnipeg’s points, kicking three field goals and two singles.