EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos cut it pretty close to remain perfect on the year.
Trailing by six points with three minutes to play, a botched punt by Toronto kicker Grant Shaw would give Edmonton great field position and lead to a 21-yard touchdown catch by Fred Stamps as the Eskimos came from behind to continue their torrid start to the season, defeating the visiting Argonauts 26-25 on Friday.
Toronto attempted a 57-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining but Shaw was well short, allowing the Eskimos to run out the clock.
The Eskimos remain the only undefeated team in the Canadian Football League under rookie head coach Kavis Reed, getting off to their first 5-0 start since 1980.
"It was a win that we had to scratch and claw for," Reed said. "We got the bounces when we needed them. We were fortunate to come out with this win.
"Our team truly fought through some adversity and showed some character tonight in a tough win."
Stamps said there was nothing wrong with a win that was anything but pretty.
"Winning is the only thing that mattered," he said. "It was an ugly game but we were victorious. We're glad we pulled this one out. We needed some adversity.
"That's the type of game we needed to let everyone know we still had work to do."
The story is significantly different for the Argonauts, losers of four games in a row to drop to 1-4.
"That was a bizarre game," said Toronto head coach Jim Barker. "That's been our season. It's the way our games have gone. Last year we found a way to win those bizarre games and this year we haven't. It's just the way it is."
Barker blamed himself for making Shaw attempt the long field goal late in the game. Shaw was already under pressure with normal kicker Noel Prefontaine suffering a pre-game quad injury.
"It was third and five," Barker said. "The kid has made up to 60 yards in practice and has a strong leg. He had butchered some punts and I had a gut feeling that he was going to make the kick.
"It's on me. It was my call."
Edmonton was moving the ball downfield with ease on its first possession of the game, but Toronto kept them from scoring when Ejiro Kuale forced a fumble from Eskimos running back Arkee Whitlock that was scooped up by Argo Lin-J Shell at the Toronto 28.
Just after Edmonton got the first point on the board from a David Duval punt single, the Esks looked to have taken the ball right back as Chad Kackert fumbled just past midfield with Weldon Brown able to recover for the hometown squad.
However, the call was reversed upon a Toronto challenge, leading to the Argos going ahead 7-1 as Kackert rambled 11 yards into the end zone with just under two minutes to play in the opening quarter.
Toronto opened up a 14-1 lead early in the second quarter as Kackert went in from eight yards out for his second TD of the game after a huge 48-yard passing play from Argos starter Dalton Bell to Spencer Watt put them in scoring position.
The two teams traded fumbles on successive possessions before Toronto's Shaw booted a 35-yard field goal to put the Argos ahead 17-1 with three minutes to play in the second quarter.
Edmonton finally put some real points on the board with one minute left in the second as Marcus Henry made a nice one-handed grab on a Ricky Ray pass for a five-yard touchdown on the heels of a pass interference call to Toronto's Dee Webb.
The Eskimos then benefited from a poor punt by Shaw and another pass interference call to Shell to go down to the one-yard line, resulting in one of the most bizarre sequences in recent football memory.
Kerry Joseph's attempt to drive it in failed as time apparently expired. The majority of the Argos had gone to their dressing room for halftime before it was determined that there was still 1.5 seconds remaining, forcing the Toronto players back out to the field.
Joseph made the most of the second chance and plunged across the line to cut Toronto's lead to 17-15 at half.
Barker blistered about the incident after the game.
"If you want to talk about that, talk to (CFL commissioner Mark) Cohon," he said.
The teams traded punt singles early in the third before Edmonton fumbled the ball on a third-down gamble at their own 48. The Esks' defence got the ball back seconds later as Jykine Bradley picked off Bell at the Edmonton 21.
The Argonauts came back with a long drive on their next possession, but Bell was picked off in the end zone by Rod Williams to keep it a two-point game heading into the fourth.
Toronto surged ahead 25-16 on a massive play two minutes in the final quarter as Matt Black turned on the jets and blazed 81 yards for a punt return touchdown.
Edmonton got a glorious opportunity four minutes into the fourth as the ball popped out of Chad Owens' hands on a punt return and into the clutches of Eskimo Delroy Clarke deep in Toronto territory.
The Esks looked to have converted on the chance as Ricky Ray passed 20 yards into the end zone to Stamps who eventually squeezed the ball between his legs while sliding out of bounds. The play did not count as a touchdown after a successful Toronto challenge.
Instead, Edmonton had to settle for a 24-yard Duval field goal to close to 25-19.