TORONTO — Nick Arbuckle made his first CFL start in more than two years a memorable one - and rewarded starved Argonauts fans with a victory in their first home game in nearly two years.
Arbuckle threw one touchdown pass and dove in for his own to lift the Argos to a 30-23 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in Toronto's long-awaited return to BMO Field on Saturday.
Moments after the win, he scooped up his 15-month-old daughter Aaliyah, who wore a custom-made No. 9 Argos jersey. Aaliyah wasn't yet born the last time her dad started a CFL game, with Calgary in 2019.
"This was the first game that my daughter's ever been to. And we got the win," Arbuckle said with a grin.
DaVaris Daniels scored on the reception, while D.J. Foster added a rushing touchdown for Toronto (2-1).
Darvin Adams and Rasheed Bailey had touchdown receptions for the Bombers (2-1), while Jesse Briggs scooped up a fumble and ran 83 yards in Winnipeg's first loss of this abbreviated season.
The victory was revenge for Toronto, who dropped a 20-7 decision in Winnipeg a week earlier. It was also a fitting victory for the Argos, who hadn't played a game at their BMO Field home for 665 lone days - not since a big 39-9 victory over Ottawa on Oct. 26, 2019. Then the global COVID-19 pandemic erased the 2020 CFL season.
"It's great," Argos rookie head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. "We were happy to be playing at home, show them the new Argos, so we appreciated it."
A smiling Argos general manager Pinball Clemons took the mic pre-game to address the sundrenched 9,866 fans in attendance on a steamy 28 C afternoon. Ontario COVID-19 guidelines allowed for 15,000 fans at the game.
"Hopefully we can get some more guys coming to our next game, and we can build off that," Dinwiddie said. "We want to build relations with the fans . . . players are out there now shaking hands and doing those things to let them know we appreciate them."
Arbuckle made his Argonauts debut a week earlier when Dinwiddie sent him in the second half in place of veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Dinwiddie had said there was a sense of familiarity with Arbuckle, as Dinwiddie had been the quarterbacks coach in Calgary when Arbuckle played there.
The 27-year-old quarterback completed 23-of-32 pass attempts for 310 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Bombers QB Zach Collaros was 18 of 33 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Boris Bede booted three field goals for Toronto, from 52, 31 and 37 yards.
The tone of the game changed early in the second half when Daniels took a massive hit from Brandon Alexander that knocked his helmet off before he hit the ground. Daniels was down for several nervous minutes before he was helped off the field. Alexander was whistled for unnecessary roughness - and a 15-yard penalty - on the play.
"That changed the attitude of the offence a little bit," Arbuckle said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to get going and score as many points after that as we wanted to. We were all kind of playing with a little bit of an edge and unfortunately kind of showed up in the (referee's) whistle a few times, but we felt like we needed to protect a guy that they injured with what we felt like was a cheap shot."
Foster scored Toronto's first touchdown of the game, running it in from 10 yards out at 7:39 of the first to cap a 61-yard touchdown drive from Arbuckle.
Former Argos QB Collaros had a pass attempt picked off by Dexter McCoil Sr., that led to an Argos field goal that summed up the Bombers' slow start to the game.
Bede booted two field goals in the quarter and Toronto led 13-0 to start the second quarter.
The Bombers finally got on the scoreboard when Jackson Jeffcoat batted the ball out of Arbuckle's hands from behind. Briggs scooped up the ball and sprinted virtually unchallenged for an 83-yard touchdown at 3:14 of the second.
Winnipeg pulled to within 16-14 on Adams' 51-yard touchdown catch at 12:04 of the second.
Arbuckle threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Daniels to cap a 63-yard drive that sent Toronto into the dressing room at halftime with a 22-14 lead.
Arbuckle tossed a 31-yard pass to rookie Dejon Brissett - brother of Indiana Pacers/former Toronto Raptor power forward Oshae Brissett - that put Toronto on the one-yard line. Arbuckle muscled his way in for the touchdown at 7:55 of the third for a 29-15 lead.
The Bombers made things interesting in the final minutes when Collaros capped his 83-yard drive with a seven-yard TD pass to Bailey at 12:48 to slice the difference to seven points. But it was too little too late.
"You can tell from our demeanour right now that we’re upset about that," Alexander said. "We laid an egg on our side. You can’t do nothing about it now, but just go back and watch film and correct a couple things. We all left a lot of plays out there, myself included."
Bombers special teams ace Mike Miller had two tackles on the afternoon to break the CFL all-time special teams record. He now has 191, topping the 190 tackles by Jason Arakgi (2008-2016 with the B.C. Lions).
Because of COVID-19, the CFL pushed back the start of the season by nearly two months, and shortened the regular season from 18 to 14 games with no pre-season.
The Argos host the Edmonton Eskimos on Thursday, while the Blue Bombers return home to host Calgary on Aug. 29.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2021.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press