McManis returns interception for decisive TD as Argos rally to down Riders 30-24

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WOLFVILLE, N.S. — Wynton McManis made Touchdown Atlantic worth celebrating for Toronto Argonauts fans.

McManis returned an interception 50 yards for the touchdown to rally Toronto past the Saskatchewan Roughriders 30-24 in an entertaining but often chippy contest Saturday afternoon.

McManis stepped in front of a Cody Fajardo pass and ran untouched to the end zone at 12:54 of the fourth quarter. Moments later, McLeod Bethel-Thompson found Brandon Banks for the two-point convert to put Toronto ahead.

Shaq Richardson cemented the win for Toronto, intercepting Fajardo with 26.8 seconds remaining before an enthusiastic Raymond Field gathering of 10,886 that was very heavy in Rider green.

"Wynton put us on his back and made that play," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. "We got the two-point play and we found a way to get a win."

But the contest was a feisty one as the two teams combined for 25 penalties and 285 penalty yards (Toronto 14 for 153 yards, Saskatchewan 11 for 132 yards). Argos defensive back Jamal Peters was ejected in the fourth after receiving his second misconduct foul.

The fireworks began during the pre-game warm-up when Williams and Richardson squared off. A video showed Williams picking up Richardson's helmet and throwing it at him before the two players were separated.

No penalties were announced once the game began, and both Williams and Richardson played with their respective units.

Afterwards, Dinwiddie accused Williams of spitting in Richardson's face twice — in the pre-game incident as well as in the second half. He said the two players have a history dating back two years.

"Shaq went to say something to him and he got spit in his face … and he (Williams) throws his own helmet at his face," Dinwiddie said. "How is that not the dirtiest play I've ever been around? … I don't know how you don't get ejected for throwing a helmet at the other guy's head.

"I almost took it in the ear trying to break it up. He (Richardson) has got to get away from it and respond to it better (but) you can't spit in a man's face and they can deny it all they want and it happened. And it happened two years ago, the same guy … it's been going on for a while now."

Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson said he didn't see the incident but promised the Riders will definitely look into it.

"We'll look into it as thoroughly as we can and I will certainly sit down and visit with Duke," Dickenson said. "I don't t believe he would do that but when somebody brings it up I think you have to look into it and investigate.

"That's not something we'd ever tolerate. We'll support our player but we'll also investigate it and find out exactly what happened."

Fajardo also expressed his doubt regarding Dinwiddie's accusations.

"I know Duke, he's a leader on our team and to tell you if he's going to put himself in jeopardy to be ejected, that's not him," Fajardo said. "I don't believe he did that, that's just my understanding of Duke and who he is on the team."

Neither Williams nor Richardson were made available to speak with reporters after the game.

Toronto (2-2) halted an eight-game losing streak against Saskatchewan (4-2) before an enthusiastic gathering of 10,886. This marked the first-ever CFL regular-season game played in Nova Scotia.

Saskatchewan made it interesting as Fajardo's 32-yard TD pass to Williams at 6:01 tied the score 21-21. Then at 10:19, Brett Lauther's 31-yard field goal gave the Riders a three-point advantage.

Fajardo finished 24-of-34 passing for 284 yards with two TDs and three interceptions. He found Williams five times for 84 yards and the TD.

Just before two flyovers by a Canadian Armed Forced helicopter — during the national anthem, then before kickoff — the Riders scratched defensive end AC Leonard (shoulder) and starting halfback Rolan Milligan (illness). That was significant as the CFL's top-ranked defence was already minus starting defensive linemen Pete Robertson (foot) and Garrett Marino (suspended).

Toronto running back Andrew Harris achieved a career milestone. The 12-year veteran accumulated 64 offensive yards (39 rushing, 25 receiving) to boost his career total yards from scrimmage total to 15,228 and move past Hall of Fame receiver Milt Stegall (15,209) into fourth in CFL history.

Harris passed Stegall in the third with an 18-yard reception. He took a swing pass from Bethel-Thompson, headed upfield and then hurdled a Saskatchewan defender before being downed.

"That's awesome, I'm fired up for Andrew," Dinwiddie said. "I didn't think we blocked very well for him today.

"We have to do a better job up front to get Andrew (to the) second level."

Toronto's Boris Bede opened the second half with a 42-yard field goa. It capped a 12-play drive to open the second half but came after Bethel-Thompson had to recover an errant snap to effectively end a promising march.

Bethel-Thompson was 26-of-37 passing for 276 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran five times for 32 yards.

DaVaris Daniels and Cam Phillips had Toronto's other touchdowns. Bede booted two converts, two field goals and a single, while John Haggerty added a single.

Jamal Morrow had Saskatchewan's other touchdown. Lauther, of Truro, N.S., had three field goals, two converts and a single.

Saturday's game was the sixth in the Touchdown Atlantic series but first since 2019. Halifax hosted Toronto and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a 2005 exhibition game that ended 16-16.

The last four Touchdown Atlantic games have been regular-season encounters staged in Moncton, N.B.

Seating capacity at Raymond Stadium was increased from about 3,000 to over 10,000. And the contest certainly had a college feel to it.

"It was great, it was awesome," Dinwiddie said. "A lot of green in there, that's great, the Riders fans travel like they always do.

"I thought it was a great environment, we all enjoyed ourselves. I think we'd love to come out here and play more."

Following the game, the Riders saluted the fans in attendance. Linebacker Derrick Monceif said he'd like to spend more time in Atlantic Canada in the future.

"I loved it, I loved every moment of it," he said. "It was a great atmosphere, definitely have to do it again."

The afternoon start in brilliant sunshine, and music blaring from speakers located in one end zone created an upbeat, festive atmosphere. The turf field attracted plenty of heat but, mercifully, a persistent breeze provided timely relief.

Some fans arrived three hours before kickoff to sit on the temporary seats and watch players on both teams getting a feel for the turf and their surroundings. Others walked on the track surrounding the field and lean on fences to get a closer look at the pre-game warm-ups.

Given the proximity of the fences to team benches, some spectators were able to call out to nearby players and chat briefly with them. An accommodating Fajardo posed for photos with fans before trotting on to the field for pre-game warm-up.

And CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie could be seen walking around the facility, pressing the flesh and casually speaking with people.

Atlantic Canada has long been mentioned as a potential landing spot for a CFL expansion franchise. Halifax received a conditional team in the 1980s but it never became operational.

Before the 2018 Grey Cup game in Edmonton, the CFL revealed tentative plans to add a 10th team in Halifax. Originally, the hope was to have the Atlantic Schooners on the field by 2021 in Moncton while a new stadium was being built in the Nova Scotia capital.

The ownership group had secured $20 million in government funding to build a facility before the COVID-19 pandemic resulted. But Schooner Sports and Entertainment hasn't been involved in any CFL events this week, reportedly because expansion into Halifax isn't imminent.

Toronto and Saskatchewan won't have to wait long to see each other again. The Argos are in Regina next weekend.

"It's not going to change very much next week," Dinwiddie said. "It's going to be a physical game, they'll feel like they owe us one so we'll see.

"Football is a violent game, it's a physical game so sometimes you do have a little chirping and stuff that happens afterwards, but it's got to look cleaner than that. That was a bad football game to watch and see some of the antics that were going on."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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