It was a rude homecoming Saturday for Ricky Ray, the former Edmonton Eskimo quarterback turned Toronto Argonaut.
Ray was pushed, hurried, sacked, and levelled by the Eskimos defensive line en route to a 19-15 Edmonton win before 35,538 fans in CFL opening weekend action.
“They played us really well and we did some things that we obviously need to clean up — penalties and doing a better job in the red zone to come away with touchdowns,” said Ray.
“We just didn’t get it done.”
Ray was 29 for 39 in passing for 298 yards and one touchdown pass.
“It felt weird coming back and playing in a place where you played for so long, seeing a lot of your ex-teammates across the field instead of playing with them,” he said. “But it is what it is.”
The 32-year-old received a 30-second standing ovation from the fans just before the start of the Argos second offensive series, when his career Eskimo accomplishments were flashed on the end zone scoreboard.
“(The fans) supported me so much and they showed a lot more support tonight,” said Ray. “I did hear a few hecklers behind the bench, but the feeling is mutual in that the fans mean a lot to me.”
Ray played nine seasons for the Eskimos, winning two Grey Cups, and is the franchise passing leader with more than 40,000 yards.
The two men he was traded for in December — quarterback Steven Jyles and kicker Grant Shaw — started Saturday for Edmonton.
Jyles was 21 for 36 for 236 yards passing and one interception while Shaw kicked field goals of 44, 27, 42 and 29 yards.
Shaw said he didn’t take any extra satisfaction in racking up 12 points against the team that gave up on him.
“For me it’s just about winning,” said Shaw. “It felt good to get that first win under out belt.”
The Eskimos led 13-7 at halftime and held off second-half surges from Ray and the Argos to hold on for the win.
Eskimos defensive tackle Almondo Sewell sacked Ray twice in the fourth quarter while defensive end Marcus Howard hurried Ray often and levelled him on the Argos’ lone touchdown pass.
“We’re just a bunch of hungry wolves out there,” said Sewell.
Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed said his team played disciplined football, but left a lot of points on the field.
“(The game) was not good for the heart, but it’s good for our confidence,” said Reed.
Edmonton won the field position advantage in the first half, with Shaw kicking two field goals before the teams swapped touchdown drives.
Both drives were sparked by long pass-and-run plays to slotbacks.
Early in the second quarter, Jyles led the Esks on a nine-play, 85-yard drive to take a 13-0 lead .
The key play was a 38-yard pass-and-run play to Adarius Bowman. Bowman caught the pass near the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle then scampered up the sideline behind a phalanx of blockers.
Running back Hugh Charles then ran in from four yards out for the major.
The Argos answered back just before halftime with their own nine-play, 85-yard drive, highlighted by a 52-yard pass-and-run play from Ray to Chad Owens.
Running across the middle, Owens caught the ball at his shoetops, then tightrope-walked 20 yards down the sideline, evading tacklers, to the Eskimos five-yard line.
Ray then tossed a short pass to running back Cory Boyd, who ran untouched into the end zone.
The Argonauts were their own worst enemies, taking 18 penalties for 118 yards.
Down 19-11 and marching early in the fourth quarter, Ray threw a perfect 18-yard rainbow touchdown pass to wide receiver Spencer Watt only to have it called back for holding.
Toronto kicker Noel Prefontaine then tried a chip shot field goal, but the ball clanked off the right upright for zero points.
The Argos were poised to tie the game again with six minutes remaining after safety Jordan Younger jumped the route to intercept a sideline pass from Jyles for receiver Nate Coehoorn.
But the drive stalled when Sewell sacked Ray at the 15-yard line, leading to another Prefontaine field goal and a 19-15 score.
“It came down to a couple of plays in the red zone, including one that got called back,” said Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich.
“In a close game on the road like this, we have to make those plays.”
Prefontaine kicked field goals of 30- and 47-yard field goals, along with singles off a 45-yard missed field and a 61-yard punt.
Notes: It was a hot night. Head referee Andre Proulx was taken to hospital in the second half after being overcome by the 26 C heat. Head linesman Michel Pinsonneault took over.
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