OTTAWA — A playoff berth was on the line Saturday for the Toronto Argonauts, and they claimed it with authority.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw three touchdown passes and the Toronto defence intercepted Ottawa quarterbacks five times as the Argonauts clinched that CFL playoff berth with a 45-15 win over the Redblacks Saturday.
“That’s why we do this. Your first goal is to get in the playoffs and then you have other goals outside of that,” Argos coach Ryan Dinwiddie said.
“We just want to get in and potentially get a chance to play for a Grey Cup. One of our goals got accomplished tonight.”
The Argos (8-5) scored 20 fourth-quarter points as Bethel-Thomson threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Markeith Ambles before the defence got two pick-six scores as Maurice Carnell (35 yards) and Chris Edwards (89 yards) intercepted Caleb Evans to complete the CFL rout. Boris Bede converted two of the three scores.
Bethel-Thompson completed 21 of 29 passes for 245 yards. He did throw an interception.
“They’re the best defence in the league. I can play a better game. I cannot throw an interception and play better, but they are the best defence in the league. We see them everyday in practice and they’re lights out,” Bethel-Thompson said.
“We played a complete game, we put it together and that’s what we’ve been waiting for. The CFL is all about down the stretch. We’ve got five more (games) and we want to keep it rolling and then it’s playoff time.”
Evans started the second half in relief of Nick Arbuckle. Evans threw three picks before Arbuckle came back in late in the game and got a meaningless one-yard score with three minutes left. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful.
The loss for the Redblacks (3-10) was the 21st in their past 22 home games.
“It was a tough way to lose, especially with the position that we’re in where we really need to win some games and we can’t afford to drop that many,” Arbuckle said.
“Unfortunately we put ourselves not just in a bad position with the loss, but losing like that is hard to come back from. But we’ve got to be pros and we have to flush it.”
The Argos went into the half up 18-6 but increased that lead to 25-9 in the third quarter thanks to a one-yard touchdown run by Chad Kelly late in the quarter.
Redblacks kicker Lewis Ward opened the quarter with a 35-yard field goal five minutes in. Bede tried to get those points back but missed a 50-yard attempt. DeVonte Dedmon attempted to bring the ball out of the end zone but had the ball stripped and the Argos recovered inside the Ottawa 10-yard line.
Three plays later Kelly ran the ball in for the touchdown.
After a scoreless first quarter that produced only seven combined first downs, things started well for the Redblacks in the second quarter.
Ward connected on a 31-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter, and then on the next series the Argos turned the ball over as Abdul Kanneh intercepted Bethel-Thompson in the Ottawa end zone.
The Argos then immediately took a defensive offside penalty before Arbuckle needed just one play to get his pass picked off by Carnell. Four plays later Bethel-Thomson connected with AJ Oullette on a three-yard touchdown pass. Another pass to DaVaris Daniels to complete the two-point conversion and an 8-6 Toronto lead.
“We put the ball in some dangerous spots with some throws. I know one was a miscommunication, sometimes it’s just a poor located pass. I know one of the pick-six was off target a little bit and they made a response on it,” Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice said.
“Tomorrow will be a tough day to watch film. The thing I told the players is, in situations when this happens you have to make sure you end up competing to the end and fighting your tail off to the end. We have to put this behind us and get ready for a short week.”
At 11:40 Ward kicked a 36-yard field goal and Bede responded with a 42-yard three-pointer of his own less than two minutes later, and the Argos were up 11-6.
With the Redblacks driving late in the half, Arbuckle was intercepted again, this time by DaShaun Amos. Three plays later and following some atrocious tackling by the Redblacks’ defence, Bethel Thompson found Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in the end zone from 21 yards out in the final minute of the quarter and the Argos went into the half up 18-6.