Ray’s Argos destroy Eskimos with a record 31-point second quarter
Edmonton backup quarterback Matt Nichols suffers a serious leg injury in third quarter
TORONTO – There are no guarantees that Judgment Day will be kind or that it will even be fair. All that can be expected from a day of reckoning is that its process will be swift and final.
Judgment came down on the Ricky Ray trade Sunday, almost 11 months to the day it was consummated. The Toronto Argonauts’ 42-26 win over Ray’s former team, the Edmonton Eskimos, was merciless and its wake far-reaching.
Ray was his usual methodical self in a record-setting second quarter that saw the Argos reel off 31 unanswered points, erase Edmonton’s 7-0 lead and blow open the Canadian Football League’s East Division semifinal. During those 15 minutes, he completed nine of 12 passes, two for touchdowns, and rushed for 11 yards and a TD.
Chad Owens also had a 59-yard punt-return touchdown, and the Toronto defence contributed by forcing a fumble off former Argo running back Cory Boyd and intercepting one-time Double Blue quarterback Kerry Joseph.
Ray’s seven-yard touchdown run with six seconds left in the first half put the Argonauts ahead 31-7.
When Ray was traded to Toronto on Dec. 12, 2011, for quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a first-round draft pick, then-Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman said the veteran QB was too old, not mobile enough, and not a clutch performer to warrant his large contract.
Ray’s play — 23 of 30 passing for 239 yards — answered all of the questions the mild-mannered 33-year-old QB stepped around in the months of drama since the trade. The owner of every major Eskimos’ passing record said after the game the win was satisfying.
“Hopefully, I don’t have to answer more questions (about the trade),” he said. “It’s just a nice monkey to get off my back. They beat us twice early in the regular season and it’s just nice to get a win against them and to keep on living.”
While the trade has worked out for the Argos, who advance to the East Division final next weekend at Montreal, it wasa failure in Edmonton. Jyles played nine games and lost his starting job in September; Joseph had positive moments as a starter, but wasn’t able to put big games together consistently.
The unfair part of the trade’s Judgment Day hit Eskimos backup pivot Matt Nichols in the third quarter. Finally at the helm after relieving Joseph (12 of 25 passing, 192 yards) to start the second half, he dislocated his ankle at the 8:25 mark of the third quarter. He was tackled while rolling out and looking for a receiver, fell awkwardly and popped the ankle out of socket.
The injury was visually disturbing and brought the game to a screeching halt.
Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed labelled the 25-year-old QB as a future franchise player in the CFL. While Nichols hasn’t received the playing time fans wanted (Sunday’s game, in particular), he is the glimmer of hope the team has at the quarterback position.
Trailing 31-10, the clock couldn’t run out fast enough for the Eskimos after Nichols’ injury.
“My heart dropped when I saw him on the ground,” Reed said. “I do know that it was a dislocation of the ankle. I just pray it’s not long term.”
“I went out and talked to him and he just said, ‘Let’s go, let’s win this thing,’ ” said linebacker J.C. Sherritt, Nichols’ teammate at Eastern Washington University.
“That’s the kind of guy he is. It’s brutal to watch, but it’s football and I’ll guarantee you he’ll come back from it,” said Sherritt, who sat out Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.
Eleven months after the trade, the ramifications are present one final, ugly time. After Nichols showed so much promise this season, his future is in limbo and the Eskimos are back where they started on Dec. 12, with no answers at the most important position in the game.
Beyond that, the Eskimos need a GM. They fired Tillman last Saturday, after the team spiralled into dysfunction everywhere above the locker-room.
Sherritt may be only five-foot-nine, but he’s the biggest of the nine defensive starters among 13 key free agents who need to be re-signed, and the Eskimos have been teetering near the brink of the salary cap all season.
Sherritt wants to stay in Edmonton, but like the rest of the organization, he’s in flux, too. He was supposed to catch a ride back to Washington with Nichols this week.
“Maybe I’ll drive,” Sherritt said. “But I don’t even know if Matt will be able to travel (from Toronto).”
The word Sunday night was that the Eskimos hoped to have Nichols on the charter flight.
Sherritt looked worn out Sunday.
“We’ll have to wing it,” he said with a shrug.
It’s a fitting end to a season that looked like it was often played on the fly.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal