Argos starter Bethel-Thompson not celebrating CFL career milestone

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TORONTO — He has thrown for more yards than Hall of Famer Doug Flutie, but McLeod Bethel-Thompson doesn't see that as a reason to celebrate.

Of more importance to the Toronto Argonauts' veteran starter is establishing himself as a winning quarterback.

"I see myself as a .500 quarterback, so there's progress to be made," Bethel-Thompson said following Toronto's 37-20 home win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night. "Quarterbacks are measured by wins and right now, we’re a .500 team.

"That's where my mindset is at. There's more consistent plays to be made and I’m going to do everything in my abilities, everything I possibly can to get there, to be that guy for this team."

Bethel-Thompson completed 19-of-32 passes for 258 yards with three touchdowns and an interception versus Hamilton. Two of his TD passes came in the third quarter as Toronto (5-5) outscored Hamilton (3-8) 27-4 in the second half to erase a 16-10 halftime deficit.

Bethel-Thompson, in his fifth CFL season — all with Toronto — has amassed 11,294 career passing yards. That moved him past Flutie (11,225) into fourth in club history. Flutie only spent two seasons with the Argos (1996-97), earning CFL outstanding player awards both seasons en route to leading the franchise to consecutive Grey Cups before joining the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 1998.

Bethel-Thompson has some work to do to catch career passing leader Ricky Ray (20,205), who'll be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame next month. Also ahead of Bethel-Thompson are Condredge Holloway (16,619) and Damon Allen (13,974), also both Hall of Famers.

“That (surpassing Flutie) is probably something I'll look back on after my career is done," said Bethel-Thompson. "Those names are unbelievable, they’re just legends, so I'm not really worried about it right now.

"If you look back on that, you become casual. When you're casual, you become a casualty.”

Bethel-Thompson earned a Grey Cup ring with Toronto in 2017 as Ray's backup. The 34-year-old Californian has completed 232-of-342 passes (67.8 per cent) this season for 2,764 yards with 13 TDs and eight interceptions.

Toronto remains atop the East Division, two points ahead of the second-place Montreal Alouettes (4-6), who host the Ottawa Redblacks (2-8) on Friday night. The Argos complete their four-game season series with Hamilton on Labour Day at Tim Hortons Field.

After that, Toronto will play consecutive road games in Ottawa on Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, respectively. In fact, the Argos will play their next four games away from BMO Field before hosting the B.C. Lions on Oct. 8.

But Bethel-Thompson and Co. will be anxious to change their history versus Hamilton this season. Toronto took the season opener 34-20 on Aug.6 before dropping a 34-27 decision the following week at Tim Hortons Field.

In that contest, it was Hamilton that came on in the second half, outscoring Toronto 20-6 to secure the victory.

"We have a lot to work on, you know Hamilton is going to bring it again," Bethel-Thompson said. "It's just relying on fundamentals.

"The game is a crazy game, it's a passionate game, it's an up-and-down game but in that storm we just have to be really, really special with our technique. We know what we didn't do last time . . . we have that to kind of look back on and be like, 'We have to come in full-go and be ready to rock in Hamilton on Labour Day. It's going to be a big, big one."

The good news for Toronto is veteran receiver Brandon Banks had three catches (with four targets) for a team-high 67 yards against his former team. Bethel-Thompson and Banks have worked hard this season to develop a chemistry together, often with mixed results.

Banks, 34, is fourth among Argos receivers with 23 catches (from 50 targets) for 352 yards with three TDs.

"It's been a long time coming," Bethel-Thompson said. "We've been on different pages for along time.

"Hopefully that's the start of something between me and him and building that chemistry. We're going to go back to work this week, for sure. It was really good to see him catch the ball and get vertical and hopefully that's a trend going forward."

Bethel-Thompson remains hopeful the offence can build upon elements of its performance Friday.

“That’s what it is, man, 12 bodies as one, everyone doing their job, everyone leaning in," he said. "It's a work of art, man, it's what football is all about.

"It’s why I love this game. When we all lean in, on offence everyone has to do their job, and then it’s artwork. We had moments there and I hope that it’s the start of something.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press