Another week, another chance for Chad Kelly and the Toronto Argonauts to clinch a season series with an East Division rival.
Toronto (9-1) hosts the Montreal Alouettes (6-5) on Saturday afternoon in the second of three regular-season meetings between the two teams. The Argos took the first 35-27 at Molson Stadium on July 14 but a victory at BMO Field would cement a playoff spot for the defending Grey Cup champions for a third straight year.
The West Division-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers (9-3) can also punch their playoff ticket for a seventh consecutive season Saturday with a home win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-5).
On Monday, Toronto defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 41-28 at Tim Hortons Field to secure that season series 3-0 with a final matchup slated for Sept. 23 at BMO Field. The Argos also defeated Ottawa 44-31 last month with the two teams still to play two more times before season’s end.
Saturday’s contest is the start of an important home-and-home series for the Argos and Alouettes. Toronto (5-0) remains unbeaten within the East Division, but the only blemish on Montreal’s conference record (4-1) is the loss to the Double Blue.
The Alouettes (3-2) also sport a winning road record while the Argos are 5-0 at home (which includes a win over Saskatchewan in Halifax).
Kelly and Co., started strong Monday in Hamilton, leading 17-0 entering the second quarter. But the CFL’s top-scoring offence hit a bit of a lull in the second and to start the third before getting back on track as both teams scored 24 second-half points.
All eyes Monday were on Kelly, who was playing his first game after signing a three-year, $1.865-million extension that made him the CFL’s highest-paid player. Kelly finished 15-of-23 passing for 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions but also ran three times for 27 yards and a TD.
Both teams were efficient on second down — Toronto converted 10 of 19 chances while Hamilton was 13-of-28 — and in the red zone (Toronto was 3-of-4 while Hamilton was a perfect 3-for-3). But the Argos’ defence registered five sacks while the offence didn’t allow any for a third straight contest.
Toronto linebacker Adarius Pickett had a game-high nine tackles, a sack, fumble recovery and tackle for loss.
Montreal comes off a 35-24 home loss to the B.C. Lions. Starter Cody Fajardo was 22-of-35 passing for 308 yards and a TD but also threw two interceptions while the Alouettes allowed five sacks.
On the plus side, Austin Mack had seven catches for 143 yards and a TD while William Stanback ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Overall, though, Montreal rolled up 517 net offensive yards, including 196 on the ground.
But Lion’s starter Vernon Adams Jr. was 21-of-33 passing for 306 yards and three TDs in his first visit to Montreal since being dealt to B.C. last season. He also ran for 54 yards on eight carries.
Toronto’s offensive balance (third overall in rushing, fourth in passing) will give Montreal’s defence plenty to handle. Kelly has many weapons at his disposal and is also a threat himself to run. The Argos also rank first in the CFL in offensive points per game (30.4 per game) and second in offensive TDs (35).
Toronto’s defence is ranked in fewest offensive points allowed (21.6) and second against the run (78.3 yards per game). But the Argos are eighth against the pass (305.4 yards) and last in completion percentage (71.7 per cent) and TD passes allowed (21).
Both defences can force turnovers — Montreal has 27, one more than Toronto. But the Argos have turned the ball over a CFL-low 10 times (including just one lost fumble) and their plus-11 differential is a league-best mark.