With one of the most ferocious offences in the league, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were expected to make quick work of the winless Toronto Argonauts on Thursday evening.
An invigorated McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the other hand, had other ideas.
Down by a 20-point deficit in the first half, the Argo quarterback rallied in dramatic fashion, throwing his third touchdown of the game with 10 seconds remaining to give Toronto (1-6) its first victory of the season, 28-27 over the Blue Bombers (5-2).
This was the Bombers’ second loss in a row, after coming out hot to start the season.
Bethel-Thompson, who recently inherited the keys to the starting quarterback job in Toronto had a strong game throwing the football, racking up 343 yards and three touchdowns while completing 37 of 49 attempts, including the last minute strike to SJ Green to put the Boatmen ahead of the Grey Cup contenders.
— CFL (@CFL) August 2, 2019
Head coach Corey Chamblin was elated after the game, crediting the tenacity of his team as well as his quarterback.
“I think its the finest moment of his career,” said Chamblin, “He’s such a competitor, he doesn’t want to lose … He’s a great football player and person.”
The Argos’ first win was put in jeopardy when Bethel-Thompson was strip-sacked by Willie Jefferson, while dropping back with 2:27 left in the contest. But the defence held and the next trip down the field produced the winning score.
Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols completed 21 of 31 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown, but a majority of the passes came from check-down options. After dropping the second game in a row, the Redding, California native plans to let his leadership do the talking.
“We had a tough night last week. And a tough night tonight. I mean it’s not a skid, we just didn’t play our best football the last two weeks,” said Nichols. “I’m going to work harder, I’m going to get guys around me to work harder, and make sure we play better next week.”
Head coach Mike O’Shea is determined to utilize the loss as a teaching moment for his players, rather than dwell on the results.
“I’m not worried about the Ontario road trip,” said O’Shea, “I’m worried about what the lessons are going to be from this game.”
Missed opportunities and mistakes are what led to the Blue Bombers’ downfall according to O’Shea.
“Every player on this football team … wants a play back, you add that up, it’s 24 points,” he said. “We can’t let the other team’s momentum affect us, we just gotta play at our level, make the easy tackles, catch the ball, block.”
One of the players that would have liked to have a re-do was Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris. Knocking on the door of the end zone, the veteran back fumbled a direct snap, bringing an abrupt end to a 96-yard drive.
“We just had a couple too many two and outs and kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” said Harris, “It’s definitely frustrating.”
Harris torched the Argonauts defence for 197 yards from scrimmage as well as 103 yards on the ground in the first half alone, plus two scores. The Blue and Gold visitors were up 20 with just over four minutes to go in the half.
Things began to change.
Back-to-back scoring drives to close out the half, including an eight-play, 81-yard drive capped off with a touchdown reception by Argos receiver Rodney Smith, put the Argonauts within striking distance going into the locker room.
The Argos employed trickery to tie the game in the third quarter.
From the one-yard line, Bethel-Thompson got the ball to offensive lineman Jamal Campbell, who had reported eligible and was left unattended in the end zone. It was his first touchdown reception.
Trading touchdowns in the late going, Toronto came up with the win on a score with 10 seconds left.
“As I said to our guys, they earned it, we didn’t. We will stick to the process of watching the film and correcting our mistakes,” said O’Shea. “We just need the guys to start taking those corrections and putting them on the field on a weekly basis.”
Toronto will take this win into a bye week, and will look to build on its first victory, at home against Saskatchewan on Aug.16.
Winnipeg will look to bounce back this Thursday at Investors Group Field, where it will host the Calgary Stampeders.