Superb Ricky Ray leads Argos over Eskimos

Argos quarterback Ricky Ray throws against the Edmonton Eskimos at the Rogers Centre on Sunday...

Argos quarterback Ricky Ray throws against the Edmonton Eskimos at the Rogers Centre on Sunday night. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:02 AM ET

TORONTO - Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos offence did exactly what they needed to do through the first half.

They moved the ball with some consistency against a tough Toronto defence. They controlled the ball keeping it out of Ricky Ray’s hands for long periods of time and they didn’t give the ball away.

And it still wasn’t enough.

Ray is so locked in right now that even a near perfect performance by the opposing offence isn’t enough to keep the Argos from another win.

The way Ray is going right now, and as long as he stays healthy, we’re not certain he can be stopped.

Backed by his 30-for-35 passing performance for 413 yards and three touchdowns, the Argos were just that much better than the visiting Eskimos in the first half and then pulled away in the second capturing their fourth win in a row with a 36-33 victory.

It wasn’t until his final throw of the first half to a streaking and wide open Dontrelle Inman in the end zone that Ray finally threw a pass that didn’t go for a completion.

With a perfect 17-for-17 streak going at that point and just one off setting an Argo record for consecutive completions without a drop in a half, Ray led his young receiver too far overthrowing him by a good step and a half. The Argos settled for a field goal on the drive and despite Ray’s dominance in that opening half headed to the locker room with just a 17-16 lead.

Even with the drop Ray managed to tie the Argos all time record of 17 in a row, a mark originally set by Mike Rae in 1975 in a game against the Montreal Alouettes.

Ray came into the game having completed 34 of his previous 38 attempts over his past two games and picked up right where he left off in the Montreal game.

All told eight different receivers got in on the action although one of those passes came from backup Zach Collaros.

Argos head coach Scott Milanovich is probably the least surprised by the progress Ray has shown as it’s his offence that Ray is running to near perfection these days.

“He just trusts the offence,” Milanovich said. “He’s comfortable with his progressions and how he moves from one receiver to the next and trusts that the system is going to find him an answer regardless of coverage. I think that’s why you’re seeing him get hit a little less in addition to us playing better up front. He’s just quicker in and out of his reads and knows where guys are going to be faster and as a result throw the ball more accurately.”

That pretty much summed up Sunday night’s performance.

The one time the Eskimos did get to Ray before he put the ball in the air, a penalty wiped away the sack.

Ray’s comfort level in the offence was tested again midway through the third quarter when an errant snap had him picking the ball up off the turf as the Edmonton defenders surged.

Calm as ever Ray scooped up the lost ball and immediately threw a dart over the middle to John Chiles for a 38-yard pickup.

It was that kind of night for Ray.

As good as Ray was, the first touchdown of the game was thrown by his backup as Zach Collaros came on and facing third and short from the Edmonton 45, faked a handoff and then hit a wide open Alexander Robinson who rumbled untouched into the end zone.

Before Ray’s night was through he would throw for three more touchdowns to give him 14 for the season. He started it off with an eight-yard strike to former Eskimos receiver Jason Barnes in the first.

He then hit John Chiles for 31 yards just into the third quarter and then found Chad Owens from six-yards out for the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s second major of the year.

Reilly was no slouch himself in the completions department either but unlike Ray couldn’t finish off his drives.

The Central Washington product was good on 35 of 46 attempts for 511 yards but had trouble finishing his drives. Towards the end of the first quarter he found Cary Koch coming across the back of the end zone with a step on Khalil Carter. The five-yard strike was just the third touchdown the Argos have allowed in the past four games and while the Esks would add another major in the fourth on a beautiful catch by Wilfrid Laurier product Shamwad Chambers for a 21-yard strike.

Things did get a little tense towards the end. What was a 17-point lead at one point by the Argos did get down to as little as a converted touchdown with just over two minutes remaining, but Ray had an answer for that too.

Ray salted the win away with a huge second-down conversion with 1:40 to go hitting Chiles for a 49-yard strike deep into Edmonton territory. Noel Prefontaine did the rest splitting the uprights on a 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10.

Reilly though would add one more touchdown, a 34-yard toss to Fred Stamps but without another possession it was all for naught.

With the win the Argos improve to 5-2 and will now have a very short practice week before they host Calgary at the Rogers Centre on Friday night.

MAN OF STEELE

All week Argos running back Curtis Steele was listed as hour to hour.

But when game time rolled around he was ready to answer the call.

Steele came out of last weekend’s win over Montreal with a groin strain that gave him some grief all week.

Even listed as the starting Argos running back on the depth chart on Saturday at the walk-through there was still some doubt that he would be able to go.

Quinn Porter took the bulk of the reps in practice all week but on game day it was Steele lined up behind Ricky Ray.

The way Ray is throwing the ball these days the running back, whoever he happens to be, isn’t a focal point.

Steele though showed no early signs of any groin problem pulling off his longest run of the year in the first half on a 26-yard scamper.

Porter did get in on the action a little in the second half chipping in with a 27-yard catch and run play in the third quarter.


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