CALGARY - The end result was the same, but the Argonauts of 2010 appear to have a glimmer of hope.
That couldn’t be said of the leaky Boatmen in each of the past two years.
With Cleo Lemon making his Canadian Football League debut at quarterback and Jim Barker on the sideline as head coach for the first time since 2003, the Argos lost 30-16 before a less-than-capacity crowd of 29,333 at McMahon Stadium.
Overall, the Argos were not the undisciplined, disorganized bunch they were in 2009 under Bart Andrus. But no one expected a turnaround to come in one game, and if it does happen in 2010, it will take some time.
In fact, with a roster that included the inexperienced Lemon and youth sprinkled everywhere else, the Argos could have done a lot worse.
And there was even a highlight or two.
Not two minutes into the fourth quarter, Chad Owens did something that the team did not accomplish once last year — take a punt all the way back for a touchdown on special teams.
The speedy Owens, acquired from Montreal for a fourth-round pick on June 23, turned on the jets and returned a Burke Dales punt 90 yards for a major. That brought the Argos to within a point, closing the Calgary lead to 14-13.
But kicker Rob Maver made it 17-13 with a 17-yard field goal minutes later. Following that, Maver connected for a 32-yarder to make it 20-13.
Grant Shaw booted a 28-yard field goal at 11:11 after Willie Pile recovered a Jon Cornish fumble. With less than a minute to play, Maver kicked a 14-yard field goal.
And then with 22 seconds remaining, Lemon was crunched by Stamps safety Wes Lysack and fumbled. Malik Jackson returned the football 31 yards for a touchdown.
The Argos’ losing streak, dating to last season, is at nine, tying the third-longest skid in team history. Toronto is 0-6 in its past six games versus the Stamps, who visit Toronto in Week 3. The Argos’ most recent win in Calgary was on July 1, 2005.
Lemon, who won the job as the Argos’ starting quarterback despite being outplayed in the pre-season games by Dalton Bell, couldn’t get the Argos offence untracked.
In the first half, Lemon, completed six of 12 passes for 117 yards. His first pass was a 27-yard completion to Andre Durie, but little of consequence happened until Jeff Johnson caught a five-yard touchdown pass late in the half.
Argos slotback Jeremaine Copeland, who played five years in Calgary before he was traded to the Argos in February, was not a major factor. Copeland, who had a league-high 12 receiving touchdowns in 2009, caught one pass in the first half for seven yards. And he fumbled in the fourth quarter, helping to set up a Maver field goal.
As has been the case many times in the past, the Argos’ defence held up its end. Stamps quarterback Henry Burris threw for more than 300 yards, but it was Maver’s five field goals that propelled Calgary.
Calgary had a 10-6 lead at the half and made it 13-6 when Maver, a Brampton native, kicked a 31-yard field goal 10 minutes into the third quarter. Maver, the Stamps’ first-round pick two months ago, soon missed a 42-yarder, but was rewarded with a single as the Stampeders went up 14-6.
The Argos’ offence took nearly a half to get productive but Lemon got the visitors to the end zone on their penultimate possession in the opening 30 minutes.
Lemon hit Brandon Rideau with a 47-yard pass to get the Argos to the Stamps’ 20-yard line. Durie then made a 15-yard gain after receiving a short pass, and on the next play, the Argos recorded their first touchdown of 2010.
Lemon faked a handoff to Boyd, turned to his left and found Johnson, who was a step inside the end zone. But the usually straightforward point-after was wasted when long-snapper Chad Rempel one-hopped the ball to holder Kevin Eiben. The latter scooped up the ball but quickly was tackled.
Calgary went ahead 3-0 on the first play of the second quarter when Maver made a 17-yard chip shot.
The lead was increased to 10-0 at 12:33 of the quarter when Joffrey Reynolds plunged in from one yard out.
And if Argos defensive end Ronald Flemons’ mind was elsewhere during the game, he had a good excuse. Flemons’ wife, Jessica, due to give birth in two weeks, travelled to Calgary from Grande Prairie, Alta., to watch the game. But she went into labour and gave birth to a daughter at approximately 3 a.m. on Thursday morning. Mother and baby were healthy, and Flemons didn’t miss his start. He will remain with his wife until Sunday, when he will return to Toronto.