Argo starter Bethel-Thompson aware of Stampeders' ball-hawking skills

·4 min read

TORONTO — It would appear to be a favourable matchup for McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the Toronto Argonauts.

Toronto (4-4) hosts Calgary (5-3) at BMO Field on Saturday night. The Argos come in with the CFL's second-ranked aerial attack (282 yards per game) and face a Stampeders' defence that's allowing a league-high 303.1 yards through the air this season.

Calgary is also ranked eighth in both passing touchdowns allowed (13) and total net offence (366.3). But numbers, Bethel-Thompson says, are sometimes misleading as the Stampeders have also registered a CFL-best 12 interceptions, are 3-1 away from McMahon Stadium and undefeated (3-0) versus East Division competition.

"They do give up yards but they're a bend-but-don't-break team," Bethel-Thompson said. "And they're leading the league in interceptions, right?

"We know they're playing good football and they're a good football team and we have to show up with our best."

Added Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson this week: "It's been a little up and down. We've been giving up a ton of yards, a ton of yards, mostly through the air, so we've got to tighten that up if we want to win."

The passing game has been an important part of Toronto's offensive attack. The Argos are ranked last overall in rushing (82 yards per game) and this week lost veteran Canadian Andrew Harris (CFL's third-leading rusher with 490 yards) to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle suffered in last week's 34-27 loss to Hamilton.

Third-year American AJ Ouellette, who ran for 47 yards on 10 carries against the Tiger-Cats, starts in Harris's spot. The Argos are also tied for seventh in offensive points (19.1 per game) and last overall in both offensive TDs (11) and time of possession (28 minutes 27 seconds).

Time is certainly of the essence for Toronto and Calgary, who're both coming off losses last week.

Toronto comes off a split of two games with Hamilton. After Saturday's contest, the Argos will again face the Ticats in another important home-and-home series.

Calgary dropped a gut-wrenching 41-40 loss to B.C. after being outscored 20-7 in the fourth quarter. After playing Toronto, the Stampeders will visit idle Winnipeg (9-1) next week before facing their provincial rival, the Edmonton Elks, in their traditional Labour Day home-and-home series.

"This is it, this is crunch time," Bethel-Thompson said. "We have Calgary here and we know what's ahead of us on that schedule.

"It's a good time to play good football."

Calgary makes its first visit to Toronto since a 23-16 win Sept. 20, 2019. The two sides met just once last year, with the Argos claiming a season-opening 23-20 victory at McMahon Stadium.

There's a lot of familiarity between the teams.

Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie is a former Calgary assistant and has six coaches on his staff who either coached or played with the Stampeders. And the Argos' roster features 10 former Calgary players, including safety Royce Metchie. He was acquired in an off-season trade for linebacker Cameron Judge, who's the West Division team's leading tackler this season.

"I know they're a well-coached football club and they have a lot of talent over there," Dinwiddie said. "They're going to bring their 'A' game, we just have to make sure we match it."

Dickenson said while there's plenty of familiar faces on Toronto's sideline, it won't detract from the job at hand.

"They've got a lot of ex-coaches, a lot of players and I'm happy they seem to have found a good fit as well over there," he said. "But we need a win.

"I think they know what we do, we know what they do (it's) who can make plays and who can come out with the victory."

Veteran Calgary kicker Rene Paredes, who has made 28-of-31 field-goal attempts this year, needs just two points to move past Trevor Kennerd (1,840 points) into 10th in all-time CFL scoring.

Calgary will be minus running back Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring) for a third straight game. But first-year player Dedrick Mills (183 yards on 25 carries, 7.3-yard average) has certainly contributed to the CFL's top ground game (110.5 yards per game).

"He's pretty darn good, he can run it downhill," Dinwiddie said of Mills. "They're going to try to establish the run early, they do a good job of game-planning it.

"We've got to control the line of scrimmage, we've got to get a pass rush on No. 19 (veteran starter Bo Levi Mitchell) and stop the run early."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press