Argonauts hold on for season-opening 20-19 home victory over Alouettes

TORONTO – Experience has taught Brandon Banks anything can happen at the end of a CFL game.

Banks had a touchdown grab in his Toronto debut but the Argonauts needed a missed David Cote field-goal try with 11 seconds remaining to escape with a season-opening 20-19 home win over the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night.

Montreal (0-2) had a chance for the win but Cote’s errant 21-yard attempt instead went for a single. It tarnished a stellar 10-play, 63-yard drive engineered by Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris — who replaced starter Vernon Adams Jr. in the first half — that included a clutch 25-yard completion to Eugene Lewis on a third-and-10 gamble .

“A win is a win,” Banks said. “You can’t complain about a win or how they eat.

“This is the CFL. We all know the games come down to the last second.”

Toronto (1-0) could’ve put the game out of reach in the fourth but veteran kicker Boris Bede missed field goals of 32 yards and 45 yards at 1:50 and 5:31, respectively. Instead of leading 24-12, the singles gave the Argos a 20-12 advantage.

Montreal pulled to within 20-18 at 9:14 on Dominique Davis’s one-yard TD run but two-point convert was unsuccessful. In retrospect, had the Alouettes kicked the convert, Cote’s miss would’ve still forced overtime.

Montreal owner Gary Stern, who earlier this week predicted the Alouettes would “kill” Toronto, watched the game from field level near his team’s bench.

The five-foot-seven, 150-pound Banks had three catches for 39 yards and a TD. Bethel-Thompson’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Banks at 2:35 of the third put the Argos up 18-6 and capped a five-play, 72-yard drive to open the second half.

Banks, 34, signed with Toronto as a free agent after eight seasons with archrival Hamilton. Banks, the CFL’s outstanding player in 2019, had 422 catches for 5,678 yards and 44 TDs with the Tiger-Cats, who also played in four Gray Cup games during his tenure.

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr (3) scrambles before getting sacked by Toronto Argonauts' Shawn Oakman (2) during first half CFL football action in Toronto Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Banks said he struggled somewhat in the humid conditions.

“That first quarter it was 33 C-plus out there,” he said. “It just felt a little heavy on me but I’ll be fine.

“I’m definitely happy with where we (Argos offense) are headed. We’re moving the ball well, we just have to finish drives.”

Bethel-Thompson finished 22-of-31 passing for 269 yards with a TD and interception. Toronto’s offense had 376 total yards, including 107 rushing on 23 attempts.

“I thought all three phases had their moments,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. “Offensively we moved the ball but we couldn’t finish drives, kicking field goals and not making them.

“I thought we made a lot of good plays, we didn’t make some of the simple ones.”

Andrew Harris ran for 87 yards 18 carries (4.8-yard average) and had three catches for 23 yards in his Toronto debut. The 35-year-old Winnipeg native helped the Blue Bombers win Gray Cup titles in 2019 and ’21 but left the game late in the fourth with a hamstring ailment.

“He just got kind of tight,” Dinwiddie said. “It wasn’t a severe injury… he could’ve finished, we just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do and he was smart about it as well.

“I think he’s got a good chance at it (playing next weekend at BC).”

Montreal head coach Khari Jones went to Harris in the second quarter after Adams completed two-of-four passes for just 14 yards. Harris finished 18-of-30 passing for 270 yards and an interception while Eugene Lewis had seven catches for 127 yards, both game highs.

“I just felt like it was time,” Jones said. “I’m just trying to win football games, that’s all I’m looking to do.

“We happen to have solid quarterbacks. I was just trying to get the best quarterback in there. I wanted to see a different flow. That’s why I did it.”

Toronto continued its mastery of Montreal at BMO Field, improving to 6-1 versus the Alouettes since moving to the facility. By comparison, the Argos are 0-6 in La Belle Province over the same span.

Toronto was 6-1 at home last year en route to finishing atop the East Division with a 9-5 record. The .857 win percentage was the club’s best since 1997 when it went 9-0 at home en route to a second straight Gray Cup.

Overall, the Argos improved to 3-3 in home openers at BMO Field before an announced gathering of 12,498.

Toronto and Montreal split their regular-season meetings last year, each winning at home.

Bede booted three field goals, two singles and a convert while John Haggerty added two singles.

Bede had two field goals in the final 15 seconds of the second quarter to stake Toronto to an 11-6 lead to cap an eventful opening half. His 38-yard kick from him to end the quarter followed Tavarus McFadden’s 28-yard interception return.

Bede connected from 29 yards out at 14:45 to cap a 10-play, 73-yard match.

But the late flurry notwithstanding, the opening half had the flow of a stagnant swamp. The combined 14 penalties for 165 yards didn’t help, neither did the eight punts, three turnovers and no TDs.

Montreal had almost as many penalty yards (100) as total yards (115).

The contest got chippy in the second when a melee ensued after Montreal linebacker Tre Watson stepped on the chest of Toronto offensive lineman Dejon Allen, who was attempting to make the block. Both were disqualified while Alouettes linebacker Chris Ackie was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

Dinwiddie said while he sympathized with Allen’s plight, he added the player’s reaction hurt his team.

“It’s always the second guy that gets caught,” Dinwiddie said. “I understand he kicked you… but this isn’t like we’re in the streets where we’re fighting and brawling.

“This is a football game, something like that is going to happen. You respond in the right way and move on to the next play. He understands that it was a big mistake.”

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

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