Argos survive nail-biter to reclaim first
Argos running back James Wilder Jr., powers his way through the Winnipeg defence in yesterday's 29-28 win over the Bombers at BMO Field in Toronto. (Nathan Denette, Canadian Press)
Ricky Ray turns 38 on Sunday, a day when he’ll reflect on a win that nearly turned into a loss, a game when the future Hall of Famer joined an exclusive list of quarterbacks.
A wild 29-28 win over visiting Winnipeg vaulted Toronto ahead of Ottawa for first in the East. Its conclusion was the kind that can be produced only in the CFL. A 39-yard field goal attempt by the Bombers’ reliable Justin Medlock went wide and was caught by Argos kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who booted the pigskin out of the end zone and out of bounds to preserve the narrow victory.
Ray, however, was the story, again, passing for 423 yards and one touchdown.
By halftime, Ray had reached 5,000 passing yards for the season — the fourth time he’s hit that and the first time since 2004.
By the end of the day, he had reached 60,000 in his career to join Doug Flutie and Anthony Calvillo at that level.
So, how is Ricky Ray going to celebrate his birthday following such a rewarding day on the job?
“I’ll be taking the kids to a pumpkin patch,’’ said the classy Ray. “We’ll do all that stuff to get ready for Halloween.
“I’m a dad now and my birthday is now their birthday. They get excited to celebrate it, but I’m sure they’ll have a few surprises for me. It’ll be a fun day for us.”
That, in essence, is Ricky Ray, a normal dude who projects professionalism and family, the kind of guy with no ego, no agenda. Heck, he even cuts his own hair.
On the field, there was no bigger day for Ray than Saturday at BMO Field as the Argos closed out the home portion of their schedule.
But he nearly became the goat when, in the third quarter with the Argos down three and poised to score a touchdown, or at worst settle for a field goal, he didn’t see Bombers defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo.
Okpalaugo picked off Ray’s pass and ran 98 yards all the way to Toronto’s one before James Wilder Jr., made an incredible play to chase him down.
The Bombers scored on the ensuing play but had Toronto not rallied, the interception would have been logged as a turning point in a Winnipeg win.
As for the milestones, only once his career is over — and it could be by as early as this off-season — will Ray look back on the many accomplishments.
The Argos now get a chance to enjoy a bye week. They could wrap up first if Ottawa loses or ties against visiting Hamilton or Friday, or the Boatmen can take the East outright by beating the Lions in B.C., in their season finale on Nov. 4.
“Everything lined up pretty good for us,’’ said Ray. “We’ve got a week off and it’s my birthday. It’s going to make it more enjoyable.”
Turning 38 won’t hit home until he’s reminded by his wife.
“I’m sure there will be a few times when I turn to my wife and say: ‘Man, I’m 38.’ But I feel real good,’’ said Ray. “I don’t feel that it’s catching up to me or anything. I’ve dealt with injuries over the years and that’s been the hardest part, but I feel real good out there playing.
“I don’t really reflect too much, especially during the season because you’re so focused on other things.”
Against Winnipeg, the Argos were once again penalty-prone, sloppy and unable to execute in the red zone.
At one point, the Blue Bombers scored 18 straight points and led by eight in the fourth period.
The Argos were very aggressive on third down, a change head coach Marc Trestman said was necessary with CFL offences beginning to find their rhythm late in the season.
Twice the Argos tried to convert on a two-point conversion, twice they failed.
They also left three points on the field when they attempted to move the chains on third down, but it was also a third-down gamble — third and goal from the Bombers six — that produced a first-quarter Declan Cross major, Ray’s lone touchdown toss of the afternoon.
There were two turnovers and yet the Argos would prevail.
Wilder, meanwhile, was a beast out of the backfield, shedding tacklers and dragging the pile to produce 197 yards of offence (112 along the ground) and score a pair of touchdowns.
NO QUIT IN WILDER
James Wilder Jr. simply refused to concede the play.
A horrendous third-quarter throw by Ricky Ray was picked off in the right flat at the Winnipeg 11 by Bombers lineman Tristan Okpalaugo, who had a clear path to the Argos end zone. But Wilder, who had swung out to the left sideline on the play, got on his horse and pursued the lumbering ball-carrier all the way down to the Argos’ goal line.
He was pushed in the back as Okpalaugo was about to hit pay dirt — shockingly, no flag was thrown — but managed to get an arm around the Bombers defender and took him down just short of the goalline. The Bombers scored a one-yard plunge on the next play.
Wilder returned from a one-game injury absence and played his heart out, refusing to go down when the ball was in his hands..