Scott Milanovich gets a Gatorade shower. (The Canadian Press)TORONTO -- The Gatorade shower is a time-honoured tradition for winning football teams, apparently started by the New York Giants in the 1980s. Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich got one on Sunday after their 42-26 win over the Edmonton Eskimos. Given the big playoff win, you'd think he would be happy about it. He wasn't.
"I was mad," Milanovich said. "I said, 'This is not the Grey Cup.' This is just one of three steps we want to take."
When pressed, he admitted he wasn't actually upset; he just wanted his team to "act like we've been there before." But truth is, it's not often, lately, that the Argos make an appearance in the East Division final, as they will next week in Montreal against the Alouettes. They've only played in the game three times in the last nine years (2006, 2007 and 2010). Toronto has not appeared in a Grey Cup final since 2004 when they beat the B.C. Lions.
So you can forgive the Argonauts for being excited about the convincing win over the hapless Eskimos. It also means Milanovich, the first-year head coach, will face his former team in the East final.
[Slideshow: CFL division semifinal games]
"I know what the storylines will be, but having coached there doesn't give us any edge," he said. "It's going to be two good teams and I think we'll be up to the challenge."
The Argonauts certainly were up to the challenge on Sunday. Hosting their first playoff since 2007, the Argos started slow and trailed 7-0 after the first quarter but then made history in the second quarter. Toronto scored 31 unanswered points in the quarter to take control and put the game out of reach. The 31 points scored by the Argos was the highest point total ever in a single quarter of a playoff game. The previous record was 29 scored by the Calgary Stampeders against the Lions in 1979.
But what was most telling about the point total was just how seemingly easy they came. Defence and special teams put the Argos in easy scoring position. The first three scores were on drives of less than 30 yards and Chad Owens returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown which electrified the announced crowd of 25,792.
"I've been waiting all year to see him do that for my team after he always did it against me," Milanovich said. "Chad set the momentum over the top for us. The guys really started to feel good after that.
"We started slow, that's when it's good to have a veteran quarterback who won't get rattled. Then we had good field position and we were able to take advantage."
That veteran quarterback, Ricky Ray, a former long-time Eskimo, threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a touchdown.
The game took an ugly turn late in the third quarter. Nichols gets taken off the field. (The Canadian Press)Eskimos quarterback Matt Nichols, who replaced Kerry Joseph to start the second half, scrambled and was tackled by Ronald Flemons. Nichols' leg was caught awkwardly underneath him, resulting in a horrifying leg injury. (Click that link at your own risk.) Nichols was attended to on the field for several minutes by training staff and was carted off and was sent directly to a hospital.
The Argonauts will be in tough when they head to Olympic Stadium next weekend. In three head-to-head matchups this season Toronto won once and lost twice. They haven't beaten the Alouettes in the playoffs since that Grey Cup run in 2004.
"They're a great team, I know them intimately," Milanovich said. "They'll be confident playing in that stadium and rested. We can't get off to the same start we did today."