November 11, 2012
Record quarter sends Argos to East final
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The Argos are going to have to be a lot better than what they managed to summon on semifinal Sunday.
A lot will be on the line next week in Montreal, where the starting quarterback will not be an issue, where inexperience will not be questioned, where a trip to the milestone 100th Grey Cup awaits the winner.
The Argos would fashion a quarter for the ages against Edmonton, but so much went right for the hosts, even at times when Toronto did not raise its game to the playoff stage.
Whether it was an interception in the end zone, an angled punt Chad Owens would return for his first major in more than one calendar year, turnovers and the unravelling of a veteran quarterback, the Argos deserve credit, but the fact remains a lot of Edmonton's wounds were self-inflicted.
No way the Argos can go into the cauldron of the Big Owe and escape with a win if they continue to take foolish, idiotic and completely unnecessary penalties.
No way they'll be able to rebound against an Anthony Calvillo-led team if a drive on the game's opening series results in a touchdown.
Whether it was nerves, being too pumped or simply mentally out of sync, the Argos played their absolute worst football in weeks in the early stages against the Eskimos.
When the run defence got sorted out, when Ricky Ray began to find his sweet spots in Edmonton's zone coverage, the game turned one-sided, the moment of truth arriving in the decisive and emphatic second quarter, 15 minutes of football that saw the Argos score 31 points.
In the end, the Argos would win the game, 42-26.
They now move on to Montreal, where the Als had the luxury of a bye week, an advantage that normally translates into a Grey Cup berth.
For the Argos to come home and play in the Grey Cup in a fortnight, discipline must be stressed and achieved, but it's an area that has haunted this team all season long.
What must unfold is for the Argos to get off to a better start and start to control the line of scrimmage from the get-go and not when the urge kicks in.
And Ray must be sharper.
"We started off slow,'' Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. "They started off fast. That's why it's good to have a veteran quarterback who's been in that situation, who is not going to get rattled.
"We could not have started worse than we did, but I don't think any of our guys panicked. Our defence stepped it up after the first drive and kept giving us the ball back. We had great field position and we were able to take advantage of that."
Against Edmonton, the Argos did not turn the ball over, their one mistake called back when replay showed the football touching the ground on a Joe Burnett apparent pick in the end zone.
But there is a chance because the Argos match up well against the Als, a team that took the season series 2-1, the decisive game played in Toronto when Ray was out with a knee injury he hurt at McGill Stadium in late September.
The Ray-Calvillo matchup is one of many intriguing matchups, as is the coaching matchup pitting Marc Trestman and Milanovich, who, not surprisingly, played down the game within the game.
The Argos need to be explosive on offence next week and the defence needs to put pressure, much like they did against Edmonton after the opening salvo.
The difference will be Calvillo, who will not get rattled.
The Eskimos got rattled and then the Argos rocked.
"We're not satisfied with this,'' Milanovich said. "I was upset they threw Gatorade. I said this is not the Grey Cup, this is one playoff win and one of three steps we hope to take."
No one knows what would have happened had J.C. Sherritt (ankle) been able to play, but clearly the Eskimos missed their best player on a unit that could not overcome the many flaws and deficiencies.
Remarkably, the Eskimos qualified for the post-season in the crossover, losers of three in a row to end the year and eight of 10.
The Argos had won two straight to close out the season and were clearly on the rise.
But now they must take their game to an entirely new level, one that will involve keeping Ray clean and trying to disrupt Calvillo's rhythm.
Anything short and Montreal will be in Toronto for the 100th Grey Cup.
Another appearance for the Als in the CFL's biggest game would be greeted by predictable boredom.
If the Argos do make it, then the potential for one of the biggest parties Toronto has seen draws closer.