SPORTS

Harris wins first CFL start to keep Argos in contention for CFL playoff spot

11/07/2014 09:58 EST | Updated 01/07/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Now the waiting begins for Trevor Harris and the Toronto Argonauts.

Harris threw two TD passes in his first CFL start Friday night, leading Toronto to an important 23-5 win over the Ottawa Redblacks. The Argos desperately needed the victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.

However Toronto (8-10) doesn't control its own destiny. It needs the Montreal Alouettes to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday to secure second in the East Division and host the conference semifinal Nov. 16.

But a Hamilton win will end the Argos' season. And if the Ticats are victorious by eight or more points, they'll finish first and Montreal will take second.

"It's nerve-racking, we want to get in," Harris said. "I mean, who doesn't?

"(Waiting) is the toughest part about life . . . but a lot of times you're waiting on opportunities and for certain things to happen. But we took care of our business and that's all we controlled."

Harris, replacing incumbent Ricky Ray (concussion), was solid in the first start of his three-year CFL career. The former Edinboro star finished 26-of-36 passing for 281 yards before an announced season-high Rogers Centre gathering of 19,687.

Ottawa came into the game ranked last in the CFL in yards allowed (374.1 per game), passing yards (262.8) and second-last in rushing yards (126.9).

Harris was sharp in the first half, completing 16-of-22 passes for 184 yards and two TDs in staking Toronto to its 20-0 half-time lead. He capped a six-play, 78-yard march with a 12-yard touchdown strike to John Chiles on the Argos' opening possession, then hit Chad Owens on a three-yard pass one play after Tristan Okpalaugo returned a Burris interception 23 yards to the Ottawa three-yard line.

The lone blemish on Harris's half was being picked off in the end zone by Ottawa's Abdul Kanneh. Branden Smith intercepted Redblacks' backup Danny O'Brien in the second to set up Waters' 22-yard field goal at 11:47 as the Argos had 10 points off Redblacks turnovers.

"I thought Trevor came out of the gate on fire," said Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich. "There's a couple of things I think when he sees on film he's going to wish he had done differently.

"But for the first real start in a game we needed to win, I thought Trevor did an outstanding job."

The start was Harris's first since '09, his final season at Edinboro University, where he threw for 11,899 career yards and 100 TD passes. In his final collegiate game, Harris completed 50-of-70 passes for a Division II playoff-record 630 yards and five TDs while running for two more in a wild 84-63 playoff loss to West Liberty.

Chiles was Harris's favourite target with six catches for 101 yards and a TD. Chiles said he and his teammates had to help Harris contain his enthusiasm on the field.

"He was really amped up," Chiles said. "We had to try and calm him down.

"We knew Trevor would be prepared and I was able to find the open spots on the defence and get distance so he could get me the ball."

Ottawa (2-16) capped its inaugural season with five straight losses. The Redblacks are just the third CFL club to suffer 16 losses in a season, joining the '88 Rough Riders and '97 Ticats.

"I'm proud to coach these guys," Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said. "Their effort and attitude has never been an issue, especially for a team that didn't win a lot of games this year.

"The losing is tough now but we'll continue to work at this thing and we'll become a better football team."

Milanovich and his coaches will spend Saturday preparing gameplans for both the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders, with one of those teams crossing over to become the East Division's third playoff seed. However, they'll also have one eye on the Hamilton-Montreal contest.

"This will be unique," Milanovich said. "We're all obviously going to be cheering hard for Montreal."

Ottawa outscored Toronto 5-3 in the second half and twice had solid chances for touchdowns. Starter Henry Burris drove the Redblacks to the Argos' 14-yard line before two incompletions set up Brett Maher's 22-yard field goal at 3:18 of the fourth to make it 20-5.

O'Brien marched Ottawa to the Toronto seven-yard line — thanks largely to a 77-yard completion to Khalil Paden — before throwing incomplete on third down with 3:08 remaining.

"We didn't take our foot off the pedal," Milanovich said. "We weren't able to run the ball, they did an excellent job of stopping our run game.

"When you get that kind of lead you'd like to be able to grind it out and we weren't able to do that. I was a little disappointed we weren't able to run the ball better."

Burris finished 7-of-13 passing for 94 yards and an interception while O'Brien was 13-of-25 for 161 yards and also had an interception. Ottawa also showed some ingenuity, starting the game with a cross-field lateral that resulted in a 41-yard return on the contest's opening kickoff.

However, Ottawa also had four turnovers and managed just three first downs and 53 net offensive yards in the opening half. The Redblacks finished 0-9 on the road and just 1-7 within the East, the lone win being an 18-17 decision over Toronto in their home opener July 18.

Waters also had three field goals for Toronto.

Maher added two singles for Ottawa.

NOTES — Offensive lineman Scott Mitchell and linebacker Greg Jones didn't dress for Toronto while defensive back Brandon McDonald and receiver Robin Medeiros were Ottawa's scratches . . . Ray's concussion ended his streak at 17 straight starts and he remains at 99 career regular-season wins . . . Ottawa held a lead in 12 of its games this year . . . Montreal GM Popp took in Friday's game.

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