Argonauts dethrone Blue Bombers to win first Gray Cup title since 2017

AJ Ouellette’s five-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter led the Toronto Argonauts to a stirring 24-23 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 109 Gray Cup on Sunday night in Regina.

Ouellette’s TD, his second of the game, came at 11:36 on a Boris Bede goal that gave Toronto their slim lead.

And it was backup Chad Kelly, the nephew of former NFL star Jim Kelly, who engineered the five-play, 36-yard drive with veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson sidelined with an unspecified injury. Ouellette’s touchdown was set up by Javon Leake’s 44-yard punt return that put Toronto at the Winnipeg 31-yard line with 6:07 remaining.

On Winnipeg’s next possession, linebacker Henoc Muamba intercepted Zach Collaros to put the Argos at the Winnipeg 43-yard line with 3:20 to play. But the Bombers stayed alive with Nick Hallett’s block of Bede’s 37-yard field goal that put the Western Division team at their 29-yard line with two minutes to go.

Following Robbie Smith’s second-down sack, Smith reached Collaros again on third down, but was called for a face mask, putting Winnipeg at its 41. The Bombers drove to the Toronto 40-yard line, but Smith blocked the attempt. Liegghio’s 47-yarder, putting Toronto on its 14-yard line with 43 seconds remaining.

So Toronto was able to run out the clock.

Muamba was named the Gray Cup Most Valuable Player and Canadian Most Valuable.

The loss marred a record effort by Winnipeg’s Janarion Grant, who had a 102-yard punt return TD early in the quarter. It was the longest punt return in Gray Cup history.

Winnipeg was attempting to become the first CFL team to win three consecutive Gray Cups since Edmonton captured five straight titles (1978-82).

Toronto won its first Gray Cup since 2017 and extended its big game winning streak to seven straight.

“Hats off to Winnipeg. To be the best, you have to go through the best,” said Argonauts defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis, playing in his sixth straight Gray Cup game. “I’ve been to a lot of them.”

“Just to be able to finish this game, the way we started the whole year. Up and down, a roller coaster ride. To stick together, unite and stay resilient. All three phases competed today. All three phases contributed and we are the ones. Gray Cup Champions.

The two teams met in the first game of the Gray Cup at the new Mosaic Stadium. The last time the competition went there was in 2013 when the game was played at Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field and the hometown Roughriders defeated Hamilton 45-23 for the franchise’s fourth and final championship.

The contest was played to an announced sellout of over 33,000 spectators, although there were noticeable patches of empty seats throughout the venue.

The temperature at the start was -2C (felt like -7C) with winds of 23 km/h. It dropped to -4C (felt like -11C) and the wind picked up to 28km/h to open the second half.

The action began after pre-game festivities that included a rousing nine-plane flyover by the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, formerly the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds.

Collaros finished 14 of 23 passing for 183 yards with one interception.

Bethel-Thompson completed 15 of 28 passes for 203 yards, while Kelly completed 4 of 6 passes for 43 yards.

Andrew Harris, who helped Winnipeg win titles in 2019 and 2021, rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries for the Argos. Ouellette had 24 rushing yards on six carries.

Bede made only three of his six field goals on the night. He also added two converts and one solo.

Dakota Prukop scored both of Winnipeg’s touchdowns. Liegghio added two conversions and a field goal.

Prukop’s one-yard touchdown run at 11:04 of the third gave Winnipeg a 17–14 lead. It capped a smart 13-play, 74-yard drive that took 7:12.

Ouellette gave Toronto a 14-10 lead with a four-yard touchdown run at 3:30. The four-play, 35-yard scoring drive was kicked off by Leake’s 23-yard punt return to the Winnipeg 35-yard line.

Toronto Argonauts running back AJ Ouellette (34) celebrates with wide receiver DaVaris Daniels after scoring a four-yard touchdown run during the third quarter of the 109th Gray Cup against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Liegghio’s 45-yard field goal at 14:39 of the second gave Winnipeg their 10–7 halftime lead. Bede had a chance to tie the score, but his 53-yard attempt on the final play was deflected.

The second was better for Winnipeg (148 net offensive yards to Toronto’s 119). However, the Bombers had the lead because their defense forced the Argos to settle for field goals and Bede was only able to convert two of his four attempts in the first half.

After struggling in the first, Collaros completed 6 of 10 passes for 95 yards at the half. Twice, however, he started Dalton Schoen, but the two were unable to connect successfully.

More importantly, Collaros jumped on immediately after a 7-yard run in the second, apparently showing no ill effects from the foot injury he sustained in last weekend’s West Division final.

Toronto seemed intent on setting up the pass as Bethel-Thompson went 10 of 21 for 142 yards. Harris ran five times for 36 yards.

Bede’s successful 36-yard field goal at 11:30 made it 7–7.

Toronto took a 4-0 lead when Bede missed a 36-yard throw for a single at 2:56 of the second. Winnipeg’s offense finally put something together when Prukop’s one-yard touchdown run on third down at 7:09 capped an eight-play, 70-yard drive that took 4:35.

Bede opened the scoring with a 46-yard field goal at 4:44 of the first, which Toronto controlled. The Argos had the ball for 8:55 and outscored Winnipeg 71-29 in offensive yards, while Collaros was just 1-of-4 passing for four yards.

However, defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat had his team’s biggest play of the quarter, recovering a fumble after sacking Bethel-Thompson.

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