Toronto Argonauts can earn East Division playoff spot with home win over B.C. Lions

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TORONTO — McLeod Bethel-Thompson has a rather unique explanation for the Toronto Argonauts success this season at BMO Field.

Dirt, grass and worms.

"I think it's really the connection with the real dirt," the veteran quarterback said about Toronto's 4-0 home record. "We're the only team in the league that has grass so I think it's a real organic connection with nature and the worms and the grass that's growing out of the field.

"I think maybe that's what really pushes us over the edge."

Toronto plays on a hybrid grass surface that was installed at BMO Field in 2019. The venue certainly agrees with the Argos (6-4), who are one of only two CFL teams sporting an unbeaten home record.

The other is the league-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-0 at IG Field, 10-1 overall).

Toronto puts its unbeaten home record on the line Saturday afternoon against the B.C. Lions (4-6). The Argos can cement a playoff berth -- its first since winning the 2017 Grey Cup -- with a fifth straight victory at BMO Field.

The contest is also important to the Lions. They're just two points behind third-place Calgary (5-6) in the West Division standings and trail Hamilton (5-5) for the third and final East Division playoff spot.

If the fourth-place finisher in the West has more points than the third-place squad in the East, the Western team will assume the final Eastern playoff seed.

Bethel-Thompson will make a fifth straight start for Toronto but first as the team's clear-cut No. 1 quarterback. Earlier this week, the club dealt youngster Nick Arbuckle to Edmonton.

Toronto signed Arbuckle to a one-year deal in the off-season to be its starter. The former Calgary Stampeder was 2-2 with the Argos but twice was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Toronto is 4-2 under Bethel-Thompson, who also started the first two games of the year. After leading the Argos to three straight wins, Bethel-Thompson threw four interceptions in a 37-16 road loss last week to Montreal (6-4).

"We can't turn the ball over, that's No. 1," Bethel-Thompson said. "You can't win football games in the CFL turning the ball over.

"I think we did a good job in the weeks before that, the three games we'd won before that we protected the ball and I didn't protect the ball well last week. That's going to be an imperative."

Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie also shouldered blame for loss.

"I've got to do a better job too," said Dinwiddie. "We were stuck in second-and-long and we just can't be in second-and-long and drop back all the time.

"He (Bethel-Thompson) was getting beat up pretty handily so I've got to find ways to get the ball in and out of his hands and there are different schemes to do that. He knows we just can't have the turnovers."

B.C. comes in having lost four straight, including a lopsided 45-0 decision last week to Winnipeg. But the Lions are 3-0 this year, both on the road and versus East Division competition.

This is the first of two straight road games in Ontario for the Lions. They'll visit Hamilton next Friday before finishing their regular season hosting Calgary and Edmonton.

"The last few weeks have not gone the way we wanted but there's a lot to play for," Lions head coach/co-GM Rick Campbell told the club's website. "We control our own destiny, it's all in our hands so we've got to make sure we're working hard at it."

Receiver Willie Whitehead returns to B.C.'s starting lineup after suffering a broken hand in a 30-9 loss to Winnipeg on Oct. 1. At the time of the injury Whitehead was leading the CFL in receiving with 36 catches for 665 yards and four TDs.

"They have a different dynamic with him on the field," Dinwiddie said. "We expect them to design some plays for him . . . so defensively we've got to know where he's lining up out on the field."

Whitehead's presence should help give veteran receiver Bryan Burnham (49 catches, 689 yards, three TDs) more room and present quarterback Michael Reilly with another quality downfield target.

Reilly was 15-of-31 passing for 131 yards and an interception last week against Winnipeg.

Bethel-Thompson feels B.C. is a dangerous opponent.

"More than anything we know we're going to get a really hungry, almost desperate B.C. team," he said. "They're coming here angry and ready to play so we know we have to show up and protect the football and put it all together.

"We haven't seen the capabilities of this offence. We've seen it in spurts and we've talked about it a lot but it's time this offence shows up and we move dynamically. As simple as it sounds, it's everyone doing their job and doing it one piece at a time."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled McLeod Bethel-Thompson's first name.

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