ATLANTIC SINKING: Argos lose heartbreaker to Alouettes in Moncton

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. is tackled by Toronto Argonauts Kennan Gilchrist, right, in Moncton, N.B. on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

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MONCTON — Time ran out on the Argos on Sunday afternoon in a game billed as Touchdown Atlantic.

And time may be running out on their season, as well.

Halfway through an 18-game schedule and Toronto finds itself at 1-8 following a heartbreaking 28-22 loss to the Montreal Alouettes, who moved four wins ahead of the Argos for second place in the Eastern Division.

With a crossover all but certain given the way the 3-7 Ottawa Redblacks have played recently, the team to catch for a playoff berth in the East is the Als, who overcame a 16-0 deficit and survived a wild finish with the Argos on their three yard line on the final play of the game.

But an attempted short pass to Armanti Edwards fell incomplete, the clock ran out and several Argos threw their helmets on to the turf at Croix Bleue Medavie Stadium in disgust and frustration.

How the Argos, with nine games to be played, can cut into the Als’ four-win bulge is anyone’s guess.
Sunday was the biggest game of the year for the Boatmen and they played at a high level until the final seconds of the opening half when momentum swung in Montreal’s favour.

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around a loss when the Argos offence produced in excess of 500 yards and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson quarterback threw for 464 yards with no interceptions.

But the CFL is a big-play league and the Als made more of them, converting a double-reverse for a touchdown, taking advantage of a penalty for running into their kicker to score the winning major in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble late in the opening half, and scoring a TD when Toronto’s back end broke down on the first play of the second half.

And so it went.

There was fight and a competitive spirit right to the final play of the game. But when the Argos are making bigger mistakes than their opponent and can’t score touchdowns when it matters most outcomes such as Sunday’s setback become inevitable.

“The one thing I told our guys this week was we had to be better than our opponent,’’ said head coach Corey Chamblin. “And be better than last week. We were better than the last week (a 41-26 loss at home to Edmonton), but we weren’t better than our opponent.

“We started the first half with a lot of energy, a lot of execution, but they made some switches. Even in that last half, we didn’t have one or two things go our way, one or two did. A couple of penalties set us back and you’re kind of moving in negative field position more so than positive field position.

“We’ve had several losses in different kinds of ways, but the thing I told those guys is that we can’t be bitter about it. We’re doing everything to be better and we were one yard short or whatever. And that’s where we are. We have to find a way to make up that one yard and turn those losses into wins.”

But time is running out with half a season to be played and four games to make up against an Als team that, unlike the Boatmen, seems to find a way to win.

Mistakes, turnovers, breakdowns in coverage, a special teams penalty, there were too many issues, most self-induced, for the Argos to overcome on a beautiful, sunny Maritime afternoon of football.

One play the Argos would want to have back came on an Als punt, early in the fourth quarter with the Argos up 22-20. Robert Woodson, one of the most disciplined players on Toronto’s roster, ran into Boris Bede after the Als punter got his kick away. The flag was thrown, 15 yards assessed and, instead of having the offence on the field trying to pad the lead, the Argos defence was forced to return to the field with the Als maintaining possession at Toronto’s 48 yard line.

Such mental mistakes don’t get recorded as turnovers, but it essentially was a turnover because it denied the Argos possession.

Montreal took advantage of the extra set of downs when Jeremiah Johnson ran to his left and straight into the end zone from 25 yards out to put the Alouettes ahead to stay.

There would be no scoring by either team, but the drama and intrigue intensified, even though more than a few of the announced crowd of 10,176 decided to call it a day just as the competition level heated up.
Bethel-Thompson, in full scramble mode, tried to extend a play, but was picked off with 2:56 to play. However, following a video review of the play, the Als were called for roughing the passer and the Argos retained possession.

A sack forced the Argos into a second and 16 from Montreal’s 31 but a pass to S.J. Green — who moved past Jock Climie for 23rd spot on the CFL’s career-receiving list — set up third-and-nine with 1:40 to play.

After a Montreal timeout, pressure forced a high throw from Bethel-Thompson and the Argos turned over the ball on downs.

Toronto’s defence then forced a quick two-and-out, giving Bethel-Thompson one last chance with just 83 seconds remaining and the ball at their own 10-yard line.

But playing with desperation and sensing the magnitude of the moment, the offence smartly moved down the field.

Yes, there could have been better clock management, but still the Argos did have a chance to win the game after Rodney Smith, who had a career-high 136 yards on 12 catches (and 12 targets), hauled in a 34-yard pass at Montreal’s three to set up the heartbreak.