December 12, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
WINNIPEG - Ricky Ray was looking at the big picture after his Toronto Argonauts barely hung on for a 26-20 win over the Blue Bombers on Saturday.
The narrow victory secured a home playoff date for the Argos (10-6) and stretched their lead atop the East Division to four points over the surging Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-7), who travel to Montreal for a game on Sunday.
"Just getting the win coming off of two losses, just keeping our lead in the East, that's what we want to do, is keep that separation (from Hamilton) and have that chance for first place," Ray said.
Winnipeg fell to 3-13 and were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in front of 28,869 fans at Investors Group Field.
The Argos got touchdown catches from Andre Durie and Dontrelle Inman and Swayze Waters booted four field goals from 37, 23, 37 and 33 yards.
The Boatmen had a 23-3 lead at halftime before the offence sputtered.
Ray didn't put up his usual 300-plus yard game, completing 21-of-35 pass attempts for 246 yards and his second interception of the season.
"I thought (Ray) played pretty good in the first half, kind of like our offence," Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said.
"We just weren't able to get any sort of rhythm in the second half. It's on the unit, it's not just on Ricky."
But even though it wasn't a masterpiece, the coach will take the win, which is the team's impressive seventh road victory (7-2) this season.
"It was ugly, but sometimes all it takes is one win to get you kind of rolling in the right direction," said Milanovich, whose team hosts the Bombers on Thursday.
"We need to get better next week, but we'll take it every time."
Will Ford and Rory Kohlert scored TDs for Winnipeg and Sandro DeAngelis connected on a pair of field goals from 13 and 20 yards.
Bombers quarterback Max Hall had a career-best outing in his fifth straight and seventh overall start. He was 30-of-50 for 385 yards with one TD and one pick.
He led his teammates in a valiant effort at the end.
Winnipeg kept Toronto scoreless in the third quarter and upped their own points to 23-10 with Ford's one-yard TD run at 5:36 of the third.
Hall then put up a nine-play, 94-yard scoring drive that ended with Kohlert's 27-yard TD reception to cut Toronto's lead to 23-17 at 5:02 of the fourth quarter.
DeAngelis surprised the crowd by completing a successful onside kick and recovered the ball himself at Winnipeg's 50-yard line, but the Bombers ended up being forced to punt.
Mike Renaud booted a 40-yarder that Chad Owens took, but could only return to Toronto's 14-yard line.
Toronto punted and Winnipeg tried another comeback from mid-field.
Receiver Mike Sims-Walker, a former NFLer with Jacksonville and St. Louis, grabbed a pair of 13-yard passes in his impressive CFL debut and got the Bombers down to Toronto's 13-yard line.
But on second down with two yards to go, the Bombers committed a huge error as Hall got called for a time-count violation and Winnipeg lost a down.
DeAngelis made the 20-yard field goal and closed the gap to 23-20 with 2:05 left in the game.
Bombers head coach Tim Burke said the time-count violation had to do with Ford not hearing his blocking assignment and Hall not being comfortable with having the play go ahead. Hall was shaken up by a heavy hit and wasn't available to the media after the game.
Following DeAngelis' field goal, Ray responded with a 31-yard pass to Jason Barnes and Bombers defensive lineman Greg Peach was flagged for roughing the passer.
Waters finished the drive with his 33-yarder with 1:06 remaining.
Hall got the Bombers down to Toronto's 49-yard line, but a knocked-down pass intended for Cory Watson ended the effort and playoff hopes.
Burke pointed to "weird stuff," mistakes and "stupid penalties" as some of the reasons for the loss.
An example of an error and oddity occurred late in the second quarter when Watson had what seemed to be a sure TD pass go right through his hands in the end zone.
Hall's next pass to a wide-open Clarence Denmark in the back of the end zone hit the goal post.
The following 26-yard field-goal attempt by DeAngelis was botched when the ball was placed on the tee and fell off, causing holder Renaud to try a pass that went incomplete and turned into a turnover.
The gaffes drew boos from the fans.
But Burke predicted his players won't downshift gears now that the team is officially out of the playoffs.
"They'll still play hard and they'll still play to win," Burke said.
"We've got guys who are tough guys, that are mentally tough, and they're going to keep going."
Sims-Walker led all receivers with eight receptions for 137 yards. Owens topped Toronto receivers with eight catches for 71 yards.