Argonauts down Alouettes 34-27 to advance to Grey Cup game

TORONTO — It's taken five years but McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the Toronto Argonauts are returning to the Grey Cup.

Bethel-Thompson threw two touchdown passes as Toronto earned a 34-27 East Division final win over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday. The Argos will make their first trip to the Grey Cup since winning it in 2017.

Bethel-Thompson was Toronto's backup quarterback that year. Hall of Famer Ricky Ray led the Argos to a 27-24 upset victory over the Calgary Stampeders at Ottawa's TD Place Stadium.

"It's the Grey Cup, it's like every other game but it's not," said Bethel Thompson. "My first year up here in 2017, I saw how the team operated, the brotherhood that was built and what it took to get there.

"It's been a long five years to get back. It's exciting but it's just an opportunity. We know if we go there and don't perform, then it will all be for naught."

Toronto will face Winnipeg at Regina's Mosaic Stadium next weekend. The Blue Bombers will chase a third straight Grey Cup after downing the B.C. Lions 28-20 in the West Division final.

And that will set up a very interesting storyline as Toronto running back Andrew Harris, a Winnipeg native, helped the Blue Bombers win their last two Grey Cups before joining the Argos in free agency.

Toronto set the tone early against Montreal taking a 14-3 first-quarter advantage going into a brisk wind that gusted past 40 kilometres an hour before a season-high BMO Field gathering of 21,331. The Argos had the wind and a 34-24 lead heading into the fourth before David Cote's 35-yard field goal at 10:53 reduced Montreal's deficit to 34-27.

But the Argos, who punted just twice, ran out the clock. They were helped by a crucial Mike Moore face mask penalty after Harris was stopped short on a second-down play.

"That's huge, that's what you have to do as a championship team," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of his offence's late-game ball control. "We had a good plan for it, guys executed it.

"We got the face mask, which helped us there but we were going to kick a field goal if we didn't get (the face mask call). It was a team win and I'm proud of those guys. They were focused and we're off to Regina."

Toronto also hosted last year's East final, losing 27-19 to Hamilton. Their points came from kicker Boris Bede (six field goals, single).

Dinwiddie said this week it was imperative his offence score touchdowns against Montreal and not settle for field goals.

"I think this is our best offensive performance of the last two seasons," said Dinwiddie, who's also Toronto's offensive coordinator. "I thought Mac had a heck of a game and everybody on offence played great.

"It was a team win and the defence did it when we needed to in the fourth."

Toronto lost standout linebacker Wynton McManis (suspected torn biceps). McManis, who had a team-high 88 tackles this season, was playing after missing four games with a knee ailment.

"It's unfortunate for Wynton," Dinwiddie said. "He's brought a lot to our organization and if not for him we're not sitting here right now.

"We're going to have to find a way to win without him. That's just what it is."

Bethel-Thompson, who threw for a CFL-high 4,731 yards this season, finished 19-of-27 passing for 299 yards and the two TDs. Harris, in his first game since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in August that required surgery, ran nine times for 42 yards and a touchdown.

DaVaris Daniels registered three catches for 108 yards, 46 coming on a second-and-short touchdown pass from backup Chad Kelly that put Toronto ahead 21-3 in the second.

A.J. Ouellette and Kurleigh Gittens Jr., scored Toronto's other TDs. Bede had four converts and two field goals.

William Stanback and Tyson Philpot had Montreal's touchdowns with Philpot adding a two-point convert. Cote booted a convert and four field goals.

Danny Maciocia, Montreal's GM/interim head coach, said being unable to take advantage of the wind early didn't help the Alouettes' cause.

"I figured having the wind at our back we were going to try to jump them early but they got the jump," he said. "We answered back (in third) but we needed to counter, we needed a stop and when we needed that stop we didn't get it.

"You've got to give them credit. They were able to answer back."

Montreal pulled to within 24-21 with the wind on Stanback's 52-yard TD run at 1:06 of the third before Trevor Harris found Philpot on the two-point convert. But Toronto recorded Bede's 25-yard field goal at 4:41 for a 27-21 lead.

The loss tarnished a solid performance by Harris, who completed 25-of-30 passes for 362 yards and a TD. Stanback ran for a game-high 82 yards on 12 carries while Philpot recorded eight catches for 127 yards.

"It's hard to reflect right now," Harris said. "When you come up short like this, it hurts."

Harris felt had Montreal got the ball back, the offence would've scored to force overtime.

"To be honest, I'm not sure how much of an answer they had for us offensively,"' he said. "I felt like we were going to move the ball regardless and score a touchdown whenever we needed it.

"It was just a matter of getting the opportunity."

Cote connected from 32 yards out at 10:09 of the third to cut Toronto's advantage to 27-24. But Bethel-Thompson found Gittens Jr. on a 31-yard touchdown pass to end the quarter and give the Argos a 10-point lead.

Cote's 30-yard field goal at 14:45 of the second cut Toronto's halftime lead to 24-13. The Alouettes drove to the Argos 10-yard line before surrendering consecutive sacks to settle for Cote's boot with the wind.

Bede's 13-yard field goal at 12:15 put Toronto up 24-10 after Harris found Philpot on a 36-yard touchdown pass at 8:26.

Bethel-Thompson's seven-yard TD pass to Ouellette at 13:01 of the first put Toronto ahead 14-3. It was set up by Royce Metchie's recovery of Kalon Julien-Grant's fumble, then his lateral to DaShaun Amos, who was tackled at the Montreal 51-yard line.

The touchdown came after Cote's 25-yard field goal at 8:27 cut the Argos' lead to 7-3. Harris opened the scoring with a six-yard TD run at 5:27 to cap Toronto's opening six-play, 79-yard drive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press