TORONTO — Jim Barker’s faith never wavered even as his team lost six straight games.
“The players are upbeat,” the Toronto Argonauts head coach and general manager said on Wednesday. “They’re very confident in what we’re building here. They believe in each other, they believe in the coaching staff and when you have that you have a good chance to fight through these types of things.”
The Argos snapped their losing streak on Thursday, holding on for dear life in a 24-18 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in front of 20,482 fans at the Rogers Centre. The attendance was up 1,278 from the last Argos home game, which was the smallest crowd since 2003.
The Roughriders looked dismal for much of the game and were behind 24-4 with 11:38 left after Noel Prefontaine’s third field goal of the game.
But Riders quarterback Darian Durant threw two touchdown passes in the final eight minutes and had two shots at the end zone in the final minute that were broken up by Argos defensive back Evan McCullough.
Toronto (2-6) climbs within four points of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-3) in the East Division, but perhaps more importantly moves two points ahead of Saskatchewan (1-7) and the B.C. Lions (1-6). If the Argos cannot catch a team in the East standings then they can still make the playoffs by finishing ahead of two teams in the West.
Roughriders head coach Greg Marshall acknowledged the significance of the game in Toronto, where his team had not lost since 2005, on Wednesday.
“Obviously it’s important, but we’re not trying to think that far down the season,” he said. “We’re just looking at it as, this is an opportunity to win a game before we go into our bye week, take away some of the bad taste that’s in everybody’s mouth.”
Toronto and Saskatchewan will now get a week off before returning to action during the Labour Day weekend when the Argos will host the Lions and the Roughriders take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Saskatchewan’s major problems this season have been turnovers and penalties and that trend continued against Toronto. Durant’s first pass of the game slipped out of his hand and was ruled a fumble. Argos linebacker Jordan Younger recovered the loose ball.
A couple plays later Argos receiver Brandon Rideau drew a pass-interference penalty on cornerback Nick Graham in the end zone. The flag, which resulted in a 19-yard gain, led to a short touchdown run by Cory Boyd. The Argos tailback, playing in his second game since returning from a knee injury, added another short touchdown in the second half.
Boyd added another one-yard scoring run in the third quarter to stretch Toronto’s lead to 20-1.
Argos quarterback Cleo Lemon finished 20 of 28 for 169 yards.