Rewind to one year ago today and you had just one team back in the same position they are in 2018. That team is the Calgary Stampeders. Their opposition that day was their Alberta rivals, the Edmonton Eskimos. Calgary went on to win the game and advance to the Grey Cup.
Moving East across the country and you have one team that was eliminated by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week — the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The other team that day was the Toronto Argonauts, who won the East at 9-9. Today, you have the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks meeting in Ottawa for the second time in four seasons.
2017 East Final
Just one year ago, the Toronto Argonauts flew high into BMO Field against another team that was riding a wave of momentum and knocked off Ottawa just a week prior. The Argos finished the season with a 5-2, capturing the East and hosting the first-ever playoff game at BMO Field. The crowd didn’t disappoint; 24,929 showed up on a cold, overcast, and windy day down by Lake Ontario. They would be in for a great football game.
The Roughriders got themselves off to a quick start. After stopping the Argonauts on third down on the Argos first possession, Kevin Glenn had what would end up being his only good drive of the day, marching Saskatchewan down the field before backfiring and settling for a field goal.
Saskatchewan marched down the field with ease. This would strike fear into some Argonauts faithful as they’ve been down this road before hosting Eastern Finals. The Argonauts had not won an Eastern Final at home since 1997. They lost in 2005 against Montreal, 2007 against Winnipeg, and 2013 against Hamilton. Their only other times winning the East Final since 1997 was two road wins in 2004 and 2012 at Montreal.
Quickly, the first half turned quite sloppy. Anthony Coombs started what would become a turnover fest in the first half with a fumble giving Saskatchewan the ball right back after scoring three. As mentioned earlier, that first drive was likely Kevin Glenn’s best. Glenn got the football back and promptly turned it back over to Toronto’s Terrance Plummer, who took it to the end zone for six. 7-3 Argos.
Back-and-forth, the Argonauts and Roughriders traded stalled drives with a mix of two and outs or one first down and a punt. Towards the end of the second quarter, the turnover fest resumed with Ricky Ray throwing an interception to Willie Jefferson, who got his paws up and surprisingly caught the low throw by Ray.
The Roughriders had fantastic field position, but an errant throw by Kevin Glenn ended up in one of the easiest interceptions in Akwasi Owusu-Ansah’s career. The calm, cool veteran Rick Ray marched the Argonauts down the field and ended the drive with a touchdown to DeVier Posey, the eventual Grey Cup MVP just a week later. 14-3 Argonauts.
End of Kevin Glenn’s Day
With under three minutes to half, the Roughriders (Kevin Glenn) shot themselves in the foot again. The first play after the Posey touchdown was read perfectly by Cassius Vaughn and a third interception was thrown by Glenn before halftime, ending his day. Vaughn would end up coming up with one of the biggest plays in Grey Cup history a week later, recovering a fumble by Kamar Jorden and returning it almost a full football fields length for a touchdown and two-point convert that would stun the CFL world and tie the Argonauts with the heavily favoured Stampeders. Back to the East Final, the Glenn interception led to a Lirim Hajrullahu field goal. 17-3 Argos at the half.
Any die-hard Argo fan knew that with a half to go and a two-touchdown lead that this was far from safe. In the 2005 East Final, the Argos got off to a 14-0 lead on Montreal, only to cough it up and lose the game. The Argos had a lead on Hamilton in the second quarter in the 2013 Eastern Final of 24-10 and also would end up losing. No lead was safe in Eastern Finals the Argonauts hosted.
The third quarter of the 2017 East Final was extremely boring with only a single point scored by Toronto. 18-3 Toronto after three quarters.
The fun begins now. The fourth quarter was epic and any football fans dream to watch. Brandon Bridge, who found his legs and arm after a suspect third, ignited the Roughriders in the fourth quarter. Bridge marched down the field, finding Duron Carter for a touchdown with 9:17 left in the game. 18-10 Toronto.
Ricky Ray, who struggled to find much rhythm at all in the second half, continued that trend in the fourth quarter with a three and out giving Saskatchewan the ball back, leading to a Tyler Crapigna field goal. 18-13 Toronto.
After a promising 11-yard run by James Wilder Jr. to start the Argo drive with 4:44 left on the clock, the Argos shot themselves in the foot with a no end penalty, which would push them back five yards and end up with a two and out. With 3:19 left in the game, Hajrullahu would punt it away to dangerous returner Christian Jones.
The Argonauts found a way to relinquish the lead. Jones returned the punt 79 yards for a Saskatchewan touchdown. All Argos fans knew what was coming from a mile away. The home Eastern Final curse. The Riders would add a two-point convert to make it a field goal game. 21-18 Roughriders.
The Final Drive
2:37 left on the clock for future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray. Ray and the entire Argo offence struggled to do anything against the Rider defence in the 2nd half. The Argos would march with two first downs before being faced with their season on one play. Third down and five, Ricky Ray found eventual Most Outstanding Rookie, James Wilder Jr. on a perfectly thrown teardrop pass into Wilder’s hands with 1:16 left in the game and the Argos in Saskatchewan territory.
Two plays later, the Argonauts find themselves on the one-yard line of Saskatchewan after a heroic catch on second-and-10 to Armanti Edwards. With 39 seconds left and a trip to the Grey Cup on the line, Cody Fajardo would punch it in from the one-yard line. 25-21 Toronto.
With 20 seconds left and Saskatchewan needing a miracle, a completion to Duron Carter with a series of laterals to follow, the Riders would fumble the football and Owusu-Ansah came up with the loose ball. 25-21 Toronto. Final.
Ricky Ray had done it again. A comeback win with under 3:00 left in the game to send the Argonauts to the Grey Cup, one they would win for Ray’s fourth title.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images