TORONTO - It was the CFL at its best, a series of wild and unpredictable moments, big plays followed by big plays, big mistakes that would lead to big gains.
About the only thing missing was a big crowd, an audience that is sure to grow — at least that’s the hope — if the Argonauts continue to put on a show to match Saturday’s 39-36 home-opening victory.
Even the visiting Calgary Stampeders would add to the atmosphere, playing defence in the back end as though four Jerry Rices were lining up for the Argos.
Larry Taylor would make like Gizmo Williams, minus the flip, by returning a missed field goal 125 yards for a touchdown.
But if one were to cut straight to the chase, it would lead to Ricky Ray, a guy so in tune on this afternoon that he could have easily passed for than 500 yards.
With Ray, the Argos will always be competitive. When pass protection is provided and his receivers hold on to the football, Ray will always keep the Argos in the game.
What the Argos must do is cover kick returns better. With the Argos up 36-29 late in the fourth quarter, the special teams unit was unable to stop Taylor, who gave Calgary possession on Toronto’s 25-yard line following a 64-yard punt return and set up a game-tying TD.
Had Stampeders quarterback Drew Tate not injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder early in the first quarter, the day could have been one of those classics with the potential to be epic.
Still, it would be close, competitive and compelling.
Argos president Chris Rudge must have been both smiling as he watched the on-field product and privately worried that barely more than 20,000 were on hand.
In the end, the Argos would win, literally at the end, as Noel Prefontaine, who struggled all day, nailed a 28-yard field goal as the clock expired to give the Argos their first win.
The game’s tenor was basically established on the opening offensive series, a clinic in how to move the football by releasing it quickly and by taking advantage of intermediate routes.
Whether it was the Argos or Stamps, neither defence had much of any answer for anything that would come their way.
For much of the first half, the flow was so high-tempo that points were produced early and often.
For obvious reasons, the loss of Tate set the Stamps back, almost putting their offence on its heels as Kevin Glenn, the one-time starter in Hamilton and Winnipeg, was forced into the fray.
When he’s on, Glenn is as good any in the CFL, but when he’s off, Glenn is turnover-prone and resorts to bad mechanics.
On an interception, Glenn, who was under pressure, threw off his back foot and into coverage, a throw first-year Argos defensive back Pat Watkins easily picked off.
While Ray did get picked off once, it came on a deflected pass that rookie Dontrelle Inman should have caught.
Undaunted, Inman would make amends with a spectacular 56-yard reception, getting behind Calgary’s coverage and extending his arms to haul in Ray’s heave.
Officially, Ray’s stat line in the opening 30 minutes read 13 completions on 20 attempts for 210 yards.
If one were to go deeper inside the numbers, nowhere does it detail how precise Ray’s throws were, how in sync he was with his receivers, how quickly he would release the football.
Usually, an effective run game establishes a passing game, a football truism that normally applies to any game.
But not in the first half on Saturday, not with Ray carving Calgary’s defence, which is not mincemeat by an stretch.
Ray was so good that the Argos did not have to punt the football.
Ray was so sharp that he distributed the football to any receiver who got open.
There was some no-huddle, a third-down gamble that would lead to a touchdown and not many penalties, as complete a performance as the Argos have produced in quite some time.
But perspective is required, especially when one considers how efficient Tate played in leading Calgary down the field and into the end zone on its first possession.
The blow to Tate, whose suspected shoulder separation may sideline him for as much as two months, clearly deflated the Stamps.
Suddenly, there was a leadership void and no push-back when Ray would lead the Argos down the field.
But Glenn, despite his struggles, is a pro and he’s learned how to persevere. Just when it appeared the Argos were about to deliver a knockout blow, Glenn took the Stamps down the field, turning a 15-point game into a one-possession game.
When he got flushed out of the pocket, Glenn survived a blow to the head by Marcus Ball and a late hit by Ricky Foley, hooking up with Nik Lewis.
After three quarters, the Argos were leading 29-21.