Veteran Argos receiver Brandon Banks finally has his first Grey Cup victory

REGINA — Brandon Banks' football resume is now complete.

The nine-year veteran receiver earned his first Grey Cup victory Sunday, helping the Toronto Argonauts upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 24-23 at Mosaic Stadium. Banks, 34, was finally able to celebrate after enduring misery in his four previous championship appearances with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"It means everything to me," Banks said. "It's what I worked hard for.

"I've been saying all year I've got nothing to prove except prove to be a champion. Now, I proved I'm a champion."

The five-foot-seven, 150-pound Banks — dubbed Speedy B due to his blazing speed — had three catches for 31 yards Sunday. It was A.J. Ouellette's five-yard run at 11:36 of the fourth quarter and Boris Bede's convert that staked Toronto to its 24-23 advantage and set the stage for a wild finish — even by CFL standards.

Following Ouellete's second TD of the game, Toronto linebacker Henoc Muamba — the game's most valuable player and Canadian — intercepted Zach Collaros to put the Argos at the Bombers' 43-yard line with 3:20 to play. But Winnipeg's Nick Hallett blocked Bede's 37-yard field-goal attempt to give the West Division champions possession at their 29-yard line with two minutes remaining.

After sacking Collaros on second down, Toronto defensive lineman Robbie Smith got to the Bombers star again on third down. But the third-year Argo from Wilfrid Laurier was flagged for a face mask penalty that kept the march alive as Winnipeg drove to the Argos 40-yard line.

But the six-foot-two, 245-pound Smith, of Brampton, Ont., made up for it by blocking Marc Liegghio's 47-yard field goal attempt. Toronto got the ball at its 14-yard line with 43 seconds remaining and was able to run out the clock for the stunning victory.

"Defence wins championships," Banks said. "I didn't believe that until (Sunday night).

"We've got a great defence, they carried us in an awful lot of games this year. They made big plays and forced turnovers."

Earlier in the fourth, Winnipeg's Janarion Grant had a game-record 102-yard punt return TD.

Toronto's defence — which forced a CFL-high 48 turnovers this season — had four sacks and two interceptions against Winnipeg, which posted a CFL-best 15-3 record during the regular season.

Banks also drew attention in the fourth, but not for a good reason. He received an objectionable conduct penalty that left Toronto facing a second-and-20 situation at the Winnipeg 41 with the Bombers leading 23-17.

Following a Winnipeg offside penalty, Argos backup quarterback Chad Kelly erased Banks's penalty with a crucial 20-yard run to the Winnipeg 16 on a second-and-15 situation. Two plays later, Ouellette scored.

Kelly, the nephew of former Buffalo Bills star Jim Kelly, was pressed into service after starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson suffered a dislocated right thumb. The first-year CFL player completed four-of-six passes for 43 yards while running twice for 21 yards.

"He (Bethel-Thompson) is the leader of our team, he's the quarterback," Banks said. "He had a thumb injury and couldn't squeeze the ball and get a good grip on it so Chad had to come in.

"We're a team. When guys go down, guys step up."

Banks had 37 catches for 522 yards with four touchdowns this season. He signed with archrival Toronto as a free agent shortly after he and Hamilton mutually parted ways following the 2021 campaign.

Banks had 422 catches for 5,678 yards and 44 TDs in 111 career regular-season contests over nine seasons in Hamilton. He was a league all-star four times and in 2019 captured the CFL's outstanding player award after registering a club-record 112 catches for 1,550 yards and 13 TDs.

Banks was making his third straight Grey Cup appearance versus Winnipeg. The Bombers defeated Hamilton 33-12 in 2019 and rallied from a 22-10 fourth-quarter deficit last year at Tim Hortons Field for a thrilling 33-25 overtime decision.

"It's everything I ever dreamt of, it's everything I ever wanted," Banks said of finally beating Winnipeg in the Grey Cup. "You couldn't write a better story for my career.

"I'm just happy and thankful to be on this side of the ball."

The '22 season was a roller-coaster one for Toronto. The club stood 4-5 before winning seven of its last nine regular-season contests to finish atop the East Division for a second straight year.

After losing 27-19 at home to Hamilton in last year's East final, Toronto advanced to its first Grey Cup since 2017 by downing Montreal 34-27 in the conference final.

"You know what kind of game the CFL is, it's up and down," Banks said. "It can go any way at any moment and so we just had to stay together and that's what we did."

And as he stood on the Mosaic Stadium field moments after the shocking win, Banks said a myriad of thoughts were bouncing around in his head.

"Everything right now," he said. "All the hard work, all of the losses, all of the bad times, the tough times.

"Dreams do come true and I didn't quit until it happened."

What's more, Banks shared his first Grey Cup victory with his 12-year-old son, Brandon Banks Jr., who lives in New York with his mother but made the trip to Regina.

"This is who I do it for," the elder Banks said.

Banks still has another year on his deal with Toronto, but remained very noncommittal on whether he'd return in 2023 or retire.

"I don't know, to be honest," he said. "I really don't know."

But now with a championship in tow, Banks said he could walk away from the game content in knowing he's accomplished everything he could.

"Of course," he said. "This is all I really wanted."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov, 21, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press