MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Scott Milanovich’s gameplan for Sunday’s Grey Cup remains a work in progress, but it won’t involve the Toronto Argonauts following the same dangerous path that they took to get to the CFL title game.
The Argos have had to rally from early 10-0 deficits twice in the playoffs in order to take their place as the home team against the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre. As a result of its resiliency, Toronto finds itself in its first CFL title game since winning the league championship in 2004.
“We would love to get started fast,” Milanovich said Monday. “Nobody enjoys falling behind, but fortunately if we do fall behind we’ll be OK.”
Edmonton surged to a 10-0 advantage over Toronto in the East Division semifinal Nov. 11 at Rogers Centre, outrushing the home team 99-0 through the first quarter. But the Argos countered with two turnovers that set up 14 points in a playoff-record 31-point second to take control of the contest en route to a 42-26 victory.
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On Sunday at Olympic Stadium, Toronto fell behind early 10-0 in the first quarter and had three first-half turnovers – a fumble and twice on downs in short yardage situations, including once at the Montreal goal line. Again, the Argos’ defence delivered, forcing three turnovers (two interceptions, fumble recovery) while the offence scored two TDs in the third to erase a 17-10 half-time deficit to advance to the Grey Cup with a 27-20 victory before more than 50,000 spectators.
Milanovich said being able to twice rally for the win in the playoff attests to the Argos’ resiliency.
“It speaks to their belief and faith in their teammates,” he said. “It’s one of the last things we said when we left the locker-room, when things get tough today you just have to find strength in your teammates and they’ll pull you through it.
“Pretty much that’s what happened.”
In both playoff contests, the Argos’ mirrored the calm demeanour of their starting quarterback Ricky Ray. The 10-year veteran, twice a Grey Cup champion over his first nine seasons with Edmonton, finished 28-of-37 passing for 399 yards and a TD to lead Toronto to the win over Montreal.
The previous week, Ray led Toronto to its first win in three games this season with Edmonton, the team that dealt Ray to the Argos in the blockbuster trade in December 2011 that saw quarterback Steven Jyles, Canadian kicker Grant Shaw and a 2012 first-round draft pick go to the Eskimos.
“Ricky just does not get rattled,” Milanovich said. “He keeps getting up and shaking himself off and planting his feet and delivering the football. He certainly gives me a lot of confidence. I’m sure he gives his teammates confidence to.”
But offensively, Ray had plenty of help in Montreal.
Receiver Chad Owens had 11 catches for a team playoff-record 207 yards while running back Chad Kackert added 139 yards rushing and a TD on 13 carries. Owens finished the regular season as the league’s receiving leader (94 catches for 1,328 yards, six TDs) while also amassing a CFL-record 3,863 all-purpose yards. He has been named a finalist for the league’s outstanding player award with Calgary running back Jon Cornish.
Having the Argos in the Grey Cup is certainly a boost to the Toronto organizing committee, but would also appear to put the weight of big expectations squarely on the team’s shoulders. But Milanovich said the players and coaches are well aware of what’s at stake and that their job isn’t finished.
Milanovich might be preparing for his first Grey Cup as a CFL head coach, but he was a part of two winning teams while an assistant with the Montreal Alouettes. And his staff has plenty of Grey Cup experience.
Argos defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones – who previously held the same position with Calgary and Montreal – is preparing to coach in his sixth Grey Cup game while quarterback coach Jason Maas, special-teams coach Mike O’Shea and secondary coach Orlondo Steinauer all won championship rings during their respective playing careers.
“The guys can feel the magnitude of their participation in this game and how important it is to the city and our organization,” Milanovich said. “How much of that they’ll take as pressure, I don’t know but I didn’t feel like the weight of having the Grey Cup in Toronto was a factor for our guys during the season . . . but our guys have been professional and pretty under control most of the season and all they have to do is do it for one more week.
“It’s important for me to win it. The thing we’ve talked about all season and through the playoffs is just because you win one game or just because you get to the Grey Cup it’s not time to relax. I’ll relax Sunday night at about midnight.”
Milanovich said his players will have a curfew to adhere to this week but hasn’t decided what that time will be yet. And the Argos head coach won’t be delivering an impassioned pre-game speech moments before leading his team on to the field at Rogers Centre.
“It won’t be fiery,” he said. “I’m going to try and settle them down and I don’t think they’re going to need the motivation, they’re not going to need me to get them any more hyped up then they already are going to be.
“I’ll try to be calm and steady with them.”