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January 2, 2020

Hogan: Top Ten of the ’10s

Ricky Ray (15) of the Toronto Argonauts in the locker room after winning the 105th Grey Cup game at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, ON. Sunday, November 26, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

10) AN AWARD-WINNING PERFORMANCE BY PACINO:

When thinking of great Argo defensive backs from the past, many players immediately jump to mind. Byron Parker, Jordan Younger and Orlondo Steinauer for one generation, Zac Henderson, Paul Bennett, “Tricky” Dick Thornton and Dave Raimey for others.

One name that may have already forgotten by some is Pacino Horne. He played just 14 regular season games for the Double Blue, picking off four passes in the process. He’d also be responsible for two post-season plays that were major contributing factors to the team’s 2012 Grey Cup win.

The first came in the East Final at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. With just 47 seconds left in regulation time and Anthony Calvillo and company facing a third-and-10 from the Toronto 23, the Als found themselves down by seven points – a field goal wasn’t good enough.

Calvillo would take the snap and step up in the pocket when Argo linebacker Ejiro Kuale got pressure on him from the defensive left side. The QB stepped to his left and lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone.

Brian Bratton was open.

Argo fans collectively held their breath as AC’s pass seemingly took forever to get to the open receiver. The ball arrived just as Horne was able to recover and get a hand up at the last second. The ball hit the receiver in the chest and fell to the artificial surface below.

The Argos were going to the Grey Cup.

The camera angles from the broadcast side made it look like Horne, beaten on the route, was merely distracting the receiver. But when TSN’s Journey to the Grey Cup was released, a field level, reverse-angle shot shows that the defender got the inside of his right thumb on the ball and that may have been enough to make Bratton miss it. We’ll never know, but Horne not giving up on the play was huge.

One week later the Argos hosted Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup game, played in Toronto. Down 7-3 to the Boatmen early in the second quarter, the Stamps had the ball at their own 10-yard line. Throwing from the left hashmark to the right side of the field, QB Kevin Glenn missed a receiver with a poor throw. The only man close to the ball was Horne, who dropped to his knees and was able to get his arms under the football to make a great catch. With nobody near him he jumped to his feet and ran it back 25 yards, diving across the goal line for an Argos TD.

It’s hard to say that something on the second play of the second quarter was a back breaker, but the Horne pick six was instrumental in the Argos victory that night.

9) A 31 THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH PINBALL:

The Argos hosted Edmonton in the 2012 East Semi-Final. Many felt the Eskimos were the favourites, despite being the road team, largely based on their 2-0 record versus Toronto in the regular season.

Those prognosticators looked good as the visitors led 7-0 after one quarter, but neither those people, nor the ones who felt the Argos were the better team, were prepared for what was to come in the next 15 minutes.

Ricky Ray hit Chad Kackert for a 12-yard TD, then Chad Owens returned a punt for a 59-yard touchdown. Ray would hit Maurice Mann from 11 yards out for another score, Swayze Waters would add a 34-yard field goal before Ray did the unthinkable, scoring from 7 yards out on a QB draw. The normally stoic signal caller celebrated by jumping in the air and spiking the ball back between his legs. It would be as much on-field emotion as Ray would show in his tenure in Toronto.

When halftime arrived, the Argos had scored 31 points in the quarter, which remains a CFL post-season record. The Double Blue went on to defeat the green-and-gold 42-26.

8) CHAD’S THE MAN:

When Chad Owens was acquired from Montreal in June 2010 in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick it barely registered. He was a small receiver who had spent all but one game on the Als practice roster in 2009. His exceptionally low profile was about to change.

As a rookie he returned four kicks for TDs en route to being named the league’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. He also was used as a depth receiver.

Two years later his level of play soared to an entirely different level.

The Hawaiian didn’t score a return TD in the 2012 regular season, but consistently gave the Argos great field position. The arrival of Ricky Ray and Scott Milanovich changed the way he was utilized offensively.

Owens would finish with 1,328 receiving yards to go with the return yards. “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” finished the season with 3,863 combined yards, still a CFL record. He’d finally return a kick for a TD, taking a punt to the house in the East Semi-Final against Edmonton. He’d catch a 70-yard pass from Ricky Ray to set up a TD in the East Final in Montreal that got the Argos back into the game. A  week later he scored the Argos first TD in their win over Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup.

Three days before the championship game he’d be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, just the sixth Argo to win that award joining Bill Symons, Condredge Holloway, Mike Clemons, Doug Flutie and Damon Allen.

It was a memorable individual performance in a remarkable team season.

7) IVOR WIN:

Over the years the city of Hamilton has not been overly kind to the Argos. Tim Horton’s Field has been the site of more heartbreak than ecstasy, while its predecessor, Ivor Wynne Stadium, wasn’t much better.

There were some exceptions of course, the snowy 1996 Grey Cup win over Edmonton being the most notable, but there was another playoff victory there that was certainly sweet for the Argos and their fans.

The 2010 Argonauts were in full rebuilding mode. Bart Andrus had led the team to a 3-15 record the year before, while in 2008 the team finished 4-14 under Rich Stubler, who was fired on September 9 and replaced by Don Matthews, who finished the season with eight consecutive losses.

Jim Barker was hired as the head coach and led the team to a 9-9 regular season, with newcomer Cory Boyd leading the way with 1,359 rushing yards.

In the East Semi-Final the Argos visited Hamilton, who had finished with an identical 9-9 record, but had swept the Argos in all three of their regular season games.

The Boatmen scored their only touchdown of the day, a 12-yard pass from Cleo Lemon to Spencer Watt, to take a 10-6 lead. Combined with Noel Prefontaine’s 3-3 day kicking field goals the Argos led 16-13 late in the game.

“Pre” would punt one out of bounds at the Hamilton 10-yard line with 59 seconds left, meaning the Ticats had some work to do to get into field goal range to try and send the game to overtime.

Kevin Glenn was anxious to do just that. He hit Dave Stala for 11 yards, Arland Bruce III for 13, Chris Bauman for 17, Bauman again for 17, then Bruce for 1. Just like that the Ticats had the ball on the Argos 41 with 10 seconds left, enough time to run another play to get Sandro DeAngelis into a better spot to kick a field goal to tie things up.

Glenn would take the snap and immediately lock in on Bruce at the left hashmark. There were a couple of problems for the QB though; the ball came out high, and he was throwing at the Argos two most dangerous DBs.

Bruce could barely touch the ball and knew hard-hitting Jordan Younger was in the vicinity. He was right. Younger put a major hit on the fully extended Bruce, who tipped the ball right into the hands of Byron Parker, who made the catch, then ran a few yards downfield before sitting down near the midfield stripe. They were off to Montreal for the East Final.

The Argos forced five turnovers on the day in what was for the most part a non-descript game, but that play will live on in the minds of anyone who saw it.

6) THE BIGGEST PLAY AT BMO FIELD TO DATE:

The Argos made their first, and so far, only playoff appearance at BMO Field in 2017. They hosted Saskatchewan in the East Final.

The Riders were coming off a 31-20 win in Ottawa in the East Semi-Final and most saw the game as a “pick ‘em.” Toronto got off to a fast start, leading 17-3 at the half, 18-3 after three quarters.

Brandon Bridge, who replaced an ineffective Kevin Glenn at QB, hit Duron Carter for a TD, then Tyler Crapigna’s field goal cut the Argos lead to 18-13 with 5:02 remaining. After a two-and-out by Toronto, Lirim Hajrullahu’s punt was hauled in by Christion Jones at his own 31-yard line. Mere seconds later he was in the south end zone and the Riders led for the first time since it was 3-0 early. A two-point conversion made it 21-18.

After the kickoff the Argos offence trotted onto the field, trailing by three points and heading into a strong 50+ kmh wind, meaning they’d have to get the ball deep into Saskatchewan territory to attempt a game-tying field goal. The Argos did have one thing going for them that Saskatchewan didn’t – Ricky Ray was their quarterback.

Looking at the scoreboard there was 2:37 left to play, an eternity in Canadian football and nobody knew that better than the veteran QB. He’d hit DeVier Posey for 13 yards, James Wilder Jr. for seven, Anthony Coombs for three and a first down. That’s when things really got interesting.

Toronto had a first down at the Roughriders 45 with an even two minutes left. A quick pass to Wilder was stopped at the line of scrimmage, then a pass to Coombs went for five yards. The Argos faced a third-and-five from the Riders 40 with an even two minutes left. It was too far to kick a field goal into the wind, a punt wouldn’t make sense with so little time left on the clock. It was third-and-five with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line.

Wilder lined up in the backfield to Ray’s right. As the ball was snapped the running back released and looked like he was going to run an out pattern to the flat. Instead, with inside position on the defender assigned to him in man coverage, Wilder cut hard and ran a vertical route down the numbers. Ray released the ball as soon as he saw Wilder had a step on the defender. For a ball that travelled just 26 yards from Ray’s hand it seemed to stay in the air forever. His remarkable touch held true as Wilder, who did have to wait on the ball a bit, was able to make the grab and move the sticks.

A lot happened after that play; a strike to Armanti Edwards one play later took it to the Rider one, followed by a Cody Fajardo QB sneak for the TD that would send the Argos to the Grey Cup against Calgary, but it was the third-down pass from Ray to Wilder that will be remembered forever by the Argo fans who witnessed it.

5) BREAKING THE CURSE:

Montreal is an amazing city to visit. It’s vibrant, with a tremendous sense of history. The restaurants are incredible and the nightlife second to none.

However, to visiting CFL teams, particularly those from Toronto, the Olympic Stadium was the opposite of the best the city had to offer to its visitors.

A never-completed concrete goliath in the east end, the stadium was cavernous, tough to get to, surrounded by no pre- or post-game party spots – and it was cold. Not necessarily from a temperature standpoint, but it was a horrendously uninviting place to play for visiting teams for a couple of reasons; the Alouettes were a damn good football team throughout the decade and 50,000+ fans made it an intimidating place to play.

The Als would move from Molson Stadium to the “Big O” to benefit from a larger venue. It worked. In a half dozen games since the Alouettes came back into the league the Argos lost all but one. That came in 2004, mainly due to Eric England knocking Anthony Calvillo from the game, then feasting on the inexperience of his backup, a trivia answer named Ted White.

On this afternoon the Als were playing without Brandon Whitaker, their top running back. Chris Jennings would get the start and would make an early impact. He’d carry the ball four times for 66 yards and a TD in the opening quarter.

The Alouettes led 10-3 after 15 minutes, 17-10 at the half.

Chad Owens, the league’s M.O.P. that season, took over on the Argos first possession, catching passes for 27 and 70 yards to set up a game-tying TD by Dontrelle Inman.

Two plays later Marcus Ball would have the first of his two second-half interceptions, and Chad Kackert made the Als pay four plays later with a 49-yard sprint to the end zone. The Argos had their first lead, but Montreal wasn’t going away.

Sean Whyte and Swayze Waters traded fourth quarter field goals before the Argos defence really stepped up. Pacino Horne recovered a fumble, Ball picked off his second pass of the half, then Horne got a hand on the game’s final pass, detailed earlier in this article.

The final three Montreal possessions were a fumble, an interception and a turnover on downs. The Double Blue D, coupled with some memorable big plays from the offence, had exorcized the demon. They had gone into the Olympic Stadium and upset the Alouettes.

They’d won the right to play in the 100th Grey Cup game a week later.

4) BACK IN BLACK:

The 2017 Grey Cup game had more than its fair share of memorable plays. One will be mentioned a little later in the article, while others, such as DeVier Posey’s 100-yard TD, or Lirim Hajrullahu’s game-winning field goal, were considered before being left of the list, as difficult as that was.

There was another play from that game worthy of a spot here.

After the Argos tied the game up, then subsequently took the lead on Hajrullahu’s 32-yarder with 53 seconds left, Calgary had a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer of its own. Bo Levi Mitchell went to work, most notably hitting Kamar Jorden on a 37-yard pass, putting the Stamps in range to tie it up.

One play later, with the ball on the Argo 24, Mitchell showed off his gunslinger mentality by going for the win.  With the ball on the left hashmark, Marken Michel lined up as the outside receiver on the right side. DaVaris Daniels lined up inside Michel and ran a post route, presumably to hold the safety in the middle of the field while Michel ran straight down the sideline.

A few things went wrong for the Stamps on the play. Jermaine Gabriel was covering Michel and stayed with him stride for stride. Matt Black was the safety and read the play perfectly. He wasn’t influenced by the man in the middle and sprinted at full speed to the spot where the ball would arrive without taking his eyes off it. Gabriel had perfect inside position to begin with, which didn’t allow Michel to turn into a defender to try and knock it away from Black, who had an unobstructed route to the ball. Another problem for Calgary was that the throw from the far hashmark took a long time to get to its intended destination, allowing Black an extra step or two to beat the ball to Michel.

It was likely the easiest of Black’s career interceptions, but by far the most important. It clinched the Argos Grey Cup win.

3) AHEAD BY A CENTURY:

Argo fans know how tough it is to be a CFL fan in Toronto. For whatever reason some people feel it’s cool to knock the team, or the league. Local sports media ignores the team for the most part, even though the TV ratings are always solid.

For one glorious week in 2012 that changed.

The city hosted the 100th Grey Cup that November, capping a year, and week, where the game took an unusually high spot in the city’s conscience. There was a festival in the city that captured the media’s attention, and over 53,000 packed the dome to watch the game.

The Argos received the opening kickoff, anxious to put the game’s first points on the board. Ricky Ray looked deep down the left sideline for Andre Durie, but Quincy Butler picked it off in front of the Argos bench.

The teams then traded punts before the Boatmen’s defence created another turnover as Ricky Foley recovered a Jon Cornish fumble. Going back to the previous week in Montreal, the defence had forced four turnovers in the last five opposition possessions. They’d cash in on the opportunity when Ray hit Chad Owens for a five-yard touchdown.

After a Rene Paredes field goal, the Argos began the second quarter with yet another turnover, a pick-six by Pacino Horne. After Swayze Waters and Paredes traded FGs, the Argos made a statement in the dying seconds.

Chad Kackert was stopped at the one-yard line on first down, then Jarious Jackson came in for Ray. Everyone expected him to run a QB sneak. With the Argos lined up in an “I” formation with Jackson under centre and Kackert behind fullback Ejiro Kuale, Jackson faked the handoff to the tailback and rolled to his right. Dontrelle Inman had lined up behind the left tight end and when the ball was snapped, he sprinted toward the right sideline. Jackson simply flipped the ball at the hashmark to a wide-open Inman, who walked into the end zone untouched.

The Argos led 24-6 and while it never felt like the lead was in jeopardy, when Andre Durie took a pass from Ray and scored with six minutes left in the fourth quarter the party began in earnest.

A late Calgary touchdown made the final 35-22, but for one beautiful Sunday evening, the Argos were all that mattered in Toronto sports.

2) TIMING IS EVERYTHING:

It was a cold, snowy night in Ottawa. The Argos had been inefficient for the most part in the 105th Grey Cup game in Ottawa.

With fewer than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter the Calgary Stampeders had a 24-16 lead and the ball. All they needed was a rouge to take a two-possession lead in weather conditions that didn’t make a comeback of that magnitude likely.

A funny thing happened to the Stamps on their way to the end zone.

Bo Levi Mitchell threw a quick hitter to Kamar Jorden at the Argo nine-yard line. Jermaine Gabriel would then have the biggest missed tackle in team history, but his contact forced Jorden to bounce back three yards to the 12. As he set his feet and headed toward the Argo end zone, Gabriel caught him from behind at the same time Cleyon Laing hit him from the side.  Laing went right elbow to right elbow on Jorden and the ball came out and scooted toward the goal line.

A football has an odd shape. It’s not like a soccer ball or basketball where it will roll in a straight line unless there’s an abnormal spin to it. A pigskin is capable of some strange, sometimes kind, sometimes evil bounces.

On this night, at this specific moment in time, the football took perhaps the kindest “Argo Bounce” ever.

If you were watching from the endzone in the direction the Calgray receiver was running, the ball came out spinning clockwise. It should have ended up in the middle of the field. But just as the ball was to make another revolution, the tip of the ball hit the surface and it took a dramatic left turn and bounced three times before skidding into the hands of Cassius Vaughn at the Argo one-yard line.

Another fortuitous angle to this story is one unknown by most Argo fans. When Vaughn played high-school football in Memphis he posted an 1,800-yard, 25-TD season as a running back. Most of his major D-1 university offers were as an RB. As soon as he picked up the ball after the fumble his offensive instincts took over.

He quickly sidestepped Davarius Daniels at the one then headed down the sideline toward the Calgary end zone. He put a very quick shoulder fake on Bo Levi Mitchell at the Argo 25 that made the QB lose his balance. He had blockers ahead of him, most notably Shawn Lemon. As he crossed midfield, Vaughn again used his experience as a running back to his advantage, yelling at Lemon and Mitchell White to make sure they blocked Anthony Parker, the player he was pointing to as he sprinted closer and closer to his destination. As Parker dove in desperation, trying to keep the ball carrier from reaching the end zone, the former RB calmly cut inside, ensuring that the would-be tackler grabbed nothing but air.

He walked into the end zone and fired the ball toward the wall at the back of the end zone.

It took Vaughn just 15 seconds to run 109 yards, dekes and all. It was the second-longest TD in Grey Cup history, and it gave the Argos second life. It kept them in a game they really had no business being in by that point. It’s not only the biggest Argo play of the decade, it’s arguably the most significant in franchise history.

1) RAY DAY:

In the age of social media it takes a lot to shock the sports world, but the Argos and Eskimos did just that on December 12, 2011. The two teams completed a trade that left most heads shaking, but Argo fans giddy with anticipation; they had just acquired the quarterback they had been longing for.

The first decade of the millennium was mostly disappointing for the Boatmen in terms of quarterback play. Damon Allen won a Grey Cup, but there was more disappointment than production from veterans like Kerwin Bell and Kerry Joseph. Michael Bishop never lived up to his potential, while players like Spergon Wynn, Mike McMahon, Jay Barker, Stanley Jackson and Jim Ballard were never able to establish themselves.

The deal came almost a year to the day that Jim Barker was named the team’s general manager, and just a couple of weeks after Scott Milanovich was named the new head coach. It didn’t take long for the newly formed duo to find a quarterback.

Eric Tillman was Edmonton’s GM and needed to move a contract. He wanted a more mobile quarterback and desperately needed cap space to keep his team intact. Tillman also felt strongly that Matt Nichols was the team’s quarterback of the future.

It opened the door for a franchise that needed a major upgrade at that position. It was coincidental that Ray was the absolute perfect fit for the offence that Milanovich wanted to run.

Quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a first-round draft pick that the Eskimos used to select Austin Pasztor were sent to Northern Alberta for Ray. It turned out to be one of the most one-sided trades in league history, so much so that some people still believe that the league orchestrated the deal to help the Argos.

Sorry Alex Jones, it didn’t.

The deal would set the tone for the remainder of a decade that saw the Double Blue win two Grey Cups, with Ray being a significant contributor to each. Ray’s mentorship would also be greatly beneficial to the development of his backups, including Zach Collaros, Trevor Harris, Cody Fajardo and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

That trade was the Argos most significant moment of the decade because without it, it’s possible, perhaps probable, that neither of the championships may have been won.