Cody Fajardo’s one-yard TD run with 23 seconds remaining rallied the Toronto Argonauts to a wild 25-21 East Division final win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday afternoon.
Toronto returns to the Grey Cup for the first time since winning the historic 100th championship game in 2012 at Rogers Centre.
The Argos will face the Calgary Stampeders, who advanced to the CFL championship game for a second straight year after coming back to defeat Edmonton Eskimos 32-28 in the West Division final.
Calgary was 2-0 versus the Argonauts in the 2017 regular season with wins of 23-7 and 41-24 in August.
Fajardo’s touchdown came after Christion Jones’ 79-yard punt return TD with 2:45 remaining put Saskatchewan ahead 21-18. Toronto starter Ricky Ray calmly marched the Argos to the Riders’ one-yard line, completing 7-of-8 passes for 67 yards to set up Fajardo’s winning run.
Toronto cemented the win when Akwasi Owusu-Ansah recovered Saskatchewan receiver Duron Carter’s attempted lateral.
The Argos were certainly opportunistic against Saskatchewan, with 17 of their points coming off turnovers, delighting the enthusiastic gathering of 24,929, the club’s largest crowd ever at BMO Field.
Among those attending were Maple Leafs’ players Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and head coach Mike Babcock, who donned his Riders’ apparel sitting next to Argos owner Larry Tanenbaum, who’s also the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Leafs.
Saskatchewan was attempting to become the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup since the rule was adopted in 1996. The Riders were 2-0 versus Toronto this year and defeated the defending-champion Ottawa Redblacks 31-20 in last weekend’s East Division semifinal.
Saskatchewan won the toss and deferred, opting to have the 54-kilometre-an-hour north wind for the fourth. When the Riders got the ball with 12 minutes left at their 17-yard line, they trailed 18-3.
Brandon Bridge of Mississauga, Ont., cut the deficit to 18-10, finding Carter on an 11-yard TD pass at 5:57, capping a smart 93-yard, seven-play drive. It was the first playoff touchdown pass by a Canadian since Ottawa’s Russ Jackson did so in the ’69 Grey Cup game.
Saskatchewan pulled to within 18-13 on Tyler Crapigna’s 28-yard field goal with 4:44 remaining before going ahead on Jones’ TD. Bridge then hit Naaman Roosevelt for the two-point convert and three-point lead.
It was a disappointing end to the season for Saskatchewan starter Kevin Glenn, a 17-year veteran still in search of his first Grey Cup victory. Glenn threw three first-half interceptions _ one that was returned for a TD _ before being replaced for good to start the second half by Bridge.
Ray and Toronto running back James Wilder Jr. were already assured of spending Grey Cup week in Ottawa as East Division finalists for the outstanding player and rookie awards, respectively. Now, they’ll be accompanied by their teammates and look to cap head coach Marc Trestman’s fabulous first season with the Argonauts by celebrating a CFL championship.
Trestman will make a fourth Grey Cup appearance as a CFL head coach. His first three (and two wins) came with Montreal from 2008-12 before becoming the head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
Terrance Plummer and DeVier Posey had Toronto’s touchdowns. Lirim Hajrullahu added the converts and two field goals.
Crapigna booted two field goals and a convert.
Toronto converted two late Saskatchewan turnovers into 10 points and a 17-3 half-time lead despite playing into the brisk wind. Hajrullahu’s 35-yard field goal at 14:31 came after Cassius Vaughn’s interception at the Riders’ 23-yard line.
Ray’s hit Posey on a 17-yard TD strike at 13:47 to move Toronto ahead 14-3, capping a 63-yard, seven-play drive aided by unnecessary roughness and pass interference penalties against the Riders. That march was set up by Owusu-Ansah’s interception.
In fact, all of the first-half points came off the combined six turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble, one on downs). It was an especially tough half for Glenn, who was 6-of-13 passing for 87 yards and three interceptions.
Glenn was replaced by Bridge at 4:28 of the second after completing 6-of-11 passes for 87 yards and a pick. He returned later in the quarter but was picked off by Owusu-Ansah on his first pass attempt.
Toronto opened the game with the wind and moved the ball smartly before Wilder Jr. was stopped on third-and-one at the Saskatchewan 29-yard line. The Riders converted that into Crapigna’s 16-yard field goal to open the scoring.
But Plummer put Toronto ahead 7-3, returning a Glenn interception 39 yards for the TD at 9:56.