The Toronto Argonauts are headed back to the Grey Cup, earning a berth in the big game after a clutch performance in the 2022 East Final that saw the Boatmen best a talented and spirited Montreal Alouettes team 34-27 in front of 21,000 fans at BMO Field on Sunday.
Toronto Argonauts Exercise Their 2021 East Final Demons
The Argos exercised their demons from the 2021 season. Toronto’s loss at BMO Field in last year’s East Final was the driving force behind the Boatmen’s 2022 campaign. Anything less than a trip to the Grey Cup this year would have washed away the Argonauts’ impressive achievements this season.
The Toronto Argonauts are heading to the 109th Grey Cup in Regina to face the almighty Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who tamed the BC Lions in the West Final to earn their third-straight trip to a CFL championship game.
There are several storylines to focus on for the 109th Grey Cup. Toronto will face a tall task trying to halt history as Winnipeg aims for destiny as CFL’s latest dynasty. Argonauts legend Mike O’Shea faces his former superstar Andrew Harris in the grandest stage of them all with the trophy at stake.
But before we dive into all that as the Grey Cup buildup progresses. Let’s look back at Sunday’s East Final one more time and the catalysts behind the Argonauts’ triumphant victory in the Six.
Toronto Argonauts 2022 East Final Report Card
Ryan Dinwiddie’s best day as a play caller with Toronto. From jump street, the Argos were aggressive and in attack mode on offence. Toronto’s offensive attack was balanced and completely caught the Alouettes’ defensive unit off guard.
The decision by Dinwiddie to defer and choose sides in the second half to gain a competitive advantage with the winds was a bold one. After all, giving your opponent an added possession is risky. But it paid off. Montreal had to alter their attack because the wind limited their opportunities to push the ball down the field. Something that Trevor Harris conceded was an issue in the post-game. Had the Alouettes needed a long kick in the final quarter? They would have been at a disadvantage.
Winning a championship gets you flowers. So he hasn’t done that yet. Lord knows the monumental task ahead of Dinwiddie against an all-time great coach in O’Shea.
But Dinwiddie deserves respect for what he has done with the Argos in his first two seasons as head coach in the CFL. Many long-time followers of the Boatmen have been exceedingly foolish and harsh in their criticisms of Ryan Dinwiddie. Some have gone out of their way to label this coach as a buffoon and as one of the worst of all time. The full plate of crow they are eating today should have been consumed long beforehand.
Corey Mace’s defence had problems with Montreal’s offence on Sunday. The Als have one of the league’s most balanced and efficient attacks, and Trevor Harris was on top of his game. It’s essentially the same results from Toronto’s meeting with the Alouettes in Montreal, where the Argos gave up over 500 yards with the division title at stake in late October.
Toronto had its fair share of injuries on the defensive side of the ball during the East Final. And it undoubtedly played a part in Montreal’s effectiveness. But it wasn’t the Argos’ best day defensively.
Mickey Donovan’s special teams unit utilized a creative game plan not to allow Chandler Worthy to wreck the game. The Argos sacrificed field position to avoid sudden death. It worked. There were no game-changing long returns. Worthy’s longest return was 29 yards.
This was a narrative-based game for McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The lovable journeyman quarterback who is not good enough to be labeled as an elite player took a giant leap in changing his perception on Sunday.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson was decisive in his reads and took charge immediately, executing Ryan Dinwiddie’s game plan to perfection. MBT completed 70 percent of his passes, throwing for 299 yards and two scores with no turnovers.
The Argos do not beat the Alouettes if MBT falters in any way during the East Final. Each time, it appeared that Montreal had the momentum and was going to overtake Toronto yesterday. McLeod Bethel-Thompson answered the call with the game squarely on his shoulders.
He still has to deliver in the Grey Cup. But Sunday was Bethel-Thompson’s shining moment in the CFL.
If you had a prop bet with Chad Kelly throwing a touchdown in yesterday’s East Final. Congratulations. Kudos to Kelly for embracing his role as a short-yardage specialist. It’s a vital role in the CFL.
Andrew Harris and AJ Ouellette combined for 163 yards of total offense on Sunday. The Double Blue’s new dynamic duo at running back delivered the goods. The Argos only ran the ball 15 times with AJ and Harris, but both were extremely effective. Their overall ‘refuse to lose’ energy provided a big boost for the entire team. It’s not only the running and receiving but also their stellar pass blocking that stood out on Sunday.
The two most accomplished receivers for Toronto, DaVaris Daniels and Kurleigh Gittens Jr., came up huge on Sunday. Both players stood out from the pack. They made several clutch plays throughout the final. KG Jr. is a star. He was so efficient in his route running against Montreal. Targeted nine times and caught each for 97 yards and a score. Cam Phillips had a rough play in the game, dropping a TD pass. Markeith Ambles and Brandon Banks were complimentary pieces. But it’s possible that the Argos could look toward Juwan Brescasin and Eric Rogers for a boost in the Grey Cup.
The Argos coaching staff decided to go with the offensive line group that got them to the big dance. Despite the possibility of playing two talented linemen in Isiah Cage and Peter Nicastro. Toronto opted to avoid disrupting their line. And it was the right call.
Just like three weeks ago in Montreal. The Argonauts offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage against the Alouettes’ defensive front. A week after the Als’ sacked Hamilton six times. Montreal was held without a sack in the Final. There were holes in the run game and a clean pocket for MBT to operate.
For the most part, Toronto’s defensive front kept Montreal’s ground game at bay. Excluding William Stanback’s 52-yard run for a touchdown. That type of misstep can’t happen against Winnipeg.
But overall, the Als struggled to find consistency in their ground attack.
The Argos did produce three sacks, two by their defensive line. Former XFL standouts Dewayne Hendrix (6 tackles) and Shawn Oakman were very active. But Trevor Harris had plenty of time to dissect the Argos coverages. Toronto did apply some consistent pressure, but they didn’t alter throws or get home enough.
The loss of Wynton McManis was felt immediately. But Henoc Muamba stepped up big time. He’s been the most overlooked defensive player in Canada this year. Muamba (7 tackles) has been perfect in his leadership and in being assignment driven. The Argos needed him to play at a high level with McManis going down, and he continues to do so.
Chris Edwards looked comfortable back at home playing the Sam spot after an in-season cameo at cornerback. The Argos utilized Edwards effectively in coverage against Walter Fletcher, who was kept quiet throughout the entire game. (0 catches).
The same issues Toronto’s defensive backs had at Montreal in late October manifested on Sunday somewhat. Trevor Harris threw for 362 yards, completing an absurd 83 percent of his passes. However, Toronto’s DBs did a better of limiting yards after the catch. In October, the team gave up 254 yards in that category alone. This time, the Als’ had just a little over a hundred, with the longest pass play as 36. The open-field tackling was better. But there were plenty of easy completions to be had by Montreal.
The unit’s best play came when Jamal Peters forced a Julien Grant fumble in Toronto territory. The game’s lone forced turnover helped the Boatmen jump out to a 14-3 lead early on. It was a pivotal play that helped the Argos get out of the jittery mode at the outset.
Strategic kickoffs and the Argos offence rarely punting certainly helped Toronto limit any damage in this area. Punter John Hagerty didn’t have a great day at the office. He averaged 27 yards per punt. It appeared that he was trying to implement a different punting style to avoid a long return.
Boris Bede was perfect on the day. He made all his kicks but wasn’t required to make any long-field goals.
Brandon Banks provided a spark with his exciting 35-yard punt return. It certainly wasn’t a designed play, his fake-out from the end zone area. But it prevented a rouge. A heady play by Speedy B.
Toronto Argonauts Overall Grade: A-minus
The Argos are on cloud nine after yesterday’s triumphant victory in front of their loyal fan base. Toronto owed its followers one after the heartbreaking and demoralizing end to their 2021 season.
The Boatmen have earned the right to bask in their glory today. But the page quickly turns toward what appears to be an insurmountable challenge.
The CFL hasn’t seen a franchise as good as Winnipeg for a long time. They are the best team in the entire league. The Argonauts have earned the right to challenge them for the ultimate throne. A week from now, if the Argonauts fall short. It will be an expected outcome. But at this moment, Toronto can rejoice in their upcoming dance with a dynasty.