TORONTO — McLeod Bethel-Thompson sees a lot of similarities between this Toronto Argonauts team and the one that won the 2017 Grey Cup.
Bethel-Thompson found Dion Pellerin for a two-point convert to earn Toronto a stirring 31-29 overtime victory over the B.C. Lions on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Argos (7-4) clinched an East Division playoff berth, their first since 2017.
The '17 campaign was Bethel-Thompson's first in the CFL. He finished it as the backup to starter Ricky Ray, who guided Toronto to a 27-24 upset Grey Cup win over the heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders.
But the next two years were definite struggles for Toronto, which recorded consecutive 4-14 records.
"I feel like 2017 was a magical journey and I was still learning about the CFL," Bethel-Thompson said. "And then you have those two years of struggle and it sucked, you can't say it any other way.
"We kind of have the same vibe this year. In '17, the defence carried the team the whole year and then the offence kicked it in when it needed to. We need the same push this year, we need the offence to come in late and start building an identity."
Pellerin's two-point convert followed Antonio Pipkin's one-yard TD run. The score came after B.C.'s Marcus Sayles was flagged for pass interference in the end zone.
B.C. countered with Michael Reilly's 32-yard TD strike to Jacob Scarfone. But Reilly's two-point conversion attempt to Shaq Johnson fell incomplete as the Lions (4-7) suffered a fifth straight loss after kicker Jimmy Camacho missed three field-goal tries in the fourth quarter.
B.C. went to overtime after Camacho's 37-yard game-winning attempt went for the single on the final play of regulation. His 49-yard try with 53 seconds remaining was tipped by Toronto's Dexter McCoil Sr. and Camacho also missed from 37 yards out at 9:51, the single cutting the Argos' lead to 23-22.
"We had opportunities to win the game and we didn't get it done," Lions head coach/co-GM Rick Campbell said. "These games come down to literally one or two plays.
"So we needed to make a few more plays including him (Camacho) and other people and me making calls. It's all of us together finding ways to make a few more plays."
Despite its dubious streak, B.C. remains in playoff contention. But Campbell admits time is running out for the Lions.
"Amazingly we control our own destiny . . . but we're coming down to our last chance at it," he said. "I want these guys to retain their spirit and their competitiveness.
"That was more like the team I've known for most of this season. The name of the game is to win but if we play that style of game we're capable of winning our fair share of games."
Reilly finished 20-of-38 passing for 290 yards with three TD passes – his first in four games – and an interception.
It was the first of two straight road games in Ontario for the Lions. They’ll visit Hamilton next Friday before finishing their regular season hosting Calgary and Edmonton.
Toronto improved to 5-0 at BMO Field, delighting the announced gathering of 9,011 on an overcast, cool afternoon. The Argos improved to 5-2 under starter Bethel-Thompson, who was 23-of-37 for just 155 yards with a TD and interception.
"He missed a few throws and I know he was upset a little bit," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of his starter. "But he showed his mental toughness, he battled back and made the plays we needed at the end.
"Without him doing that we don't win the football game so kudos to him for sticking mentally tough. But we're not satisfied . . . we've got three more games to try and get us a home playoff game and we've got a chance to possibly win the East."
DaVaris Daniels scored Toronto's touchdown. Boris Bede booted five field goals, a convert and single.
Obum Gwacham, Bryan Burnham and Dominique Rhymes scored B.C.'s touchdowns. Camacho added the converts.
Bede's fifth field goal of the game, this one from 22 yards out at 3:12 of the fourth, gave Toronto a 23-21 lead. Gwacham staked B.C. to a 21-20 advantage at 12:56 of the third with a 33-yard interception return TD.
Bede's 50-yard field goal at 9:33 put Toronto ahead 20-14. It came after his 52-yard punt single at 3:47.
Two late Bede field goals staked Toronto to a 16-14 half-time lead. Bede connected from 52 yards out at 14:52 of the second to give the Argos their two-point advantage after hitting a 15-yard boot at 13:39.
Toronto settled for Bede's chip shot following a strong defensive stand from B.C. as the Argos had the ball first and goal from the Lions' four-yard line.
Reilly put B.C. ahead 14-10 with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Rhymes at 8:33 of the second. The Lions were aided by three Toronto penalties for 35 yards on their possession.
Reilly pulled B.C. to within 10-7 at 13:55 of the first with a 32-yard TD pass to Burnham, culminating a four-play, 90-yard scoring drive.
Bethel-Thompson found Daniels on a 14-yard TD strike at 11:40 to put Toronto ahead 10-0 to cap a nine-play, 83-yard march. Bede's 29-yard field goal at 5:09 opened the scoring, set up by Jeff Richards' 38-yard interception return to the B.C. 21-yard line.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press