TORONTO, ONTARIO, - Chad Simpson helped make Buck Pierce's return to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' offence a triumphant one.
Simpson rushed for 136 yards and a TD as Winnipeg ran for 260 yards and four touchdowns to overpower the Toronto Argonauts 44-32 and keep their slim CFL playoff hopes alive before a Rogers Centre gathering of 23,419.
The five-foot-nine, 216-pound Simpson improved to 1,003 rushing yards in his first season with Winnipeg. Alex Brink, with two, and Will Ford also ran for TDs to complement Pierce in his first game back since suffering a mild concussion in a 29-10 home loss to Toronto on Sept. 29.
Pierce finished 13-of-22 passing for 200 yards as Winnipeg (5-11) amassed more rushing yards than passing (204). Traditionally, teams use the run to set up the pass but Pierce, who hit seven different receivers, said the Bombers drew a lot of confidence from their ground attack.
"When your run game is going it opens things up," he said. "It gives you confidence you can call runs in tough situations and not always have to throw.
"It put us in some good situations . . . . and ate up some clock. That makes the O-line happy and makes the quarterback happy.''
Simpson had a simple reason for Winnipeg's rushing dominance.
"We come in thinking we can run the ball against anyone," he said. "It was just straight running the football . . . all I had to do was, really, run hard.
"Anytime someone gets 1,000 yards it's not just him. Yeah, I did some good things but the O-line did some good things, the receivers caught the ball and made them play honest. When you make people play honest you have a good game.''
Winnipeg earned its third win in five games to move into a tie with Hamilton (5-10) for third in the East Division as the Tiger-Cats face the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday. Amazingly, the Bombers, who face the Ticats next week, can still finish second in the conference and host a playoff game.
Winnipeg must win its two remaining games while Toronto (7-9) loses its final two and Hamilton goes 2-1 to create a three-way tie that the Bombers would win by having a better record among the tied clubs. But Simpson said all Winnipeg did was concentrate on this contest.
"I'm not worrying about the next meal, I'm worrying about this meal," he said. "We're going to eat this meal and then we worry about the next meal later.
"But this tastes great.''
Pierce's concussion was a contentious one as it came the result of a controversial hit from Toronto's Brandon Isaac, who was later fined by the CFL for it. The league also fined Bombers offensive linemen Steve Morley and Justin Sorensen for attempting to retaliate against Isaac while defensive back Jovon Johnson was fined for public comments he made about the incident.
That prompted talk about bad blood existing between the teams heading into the contest but both head coaches said prior to the contest they'd spoken to their players about playing it straight. They obviously got the message because while the contest definitely had many hard hits but none were questionable.
Pierce took some solid shots but always got up, on one occasion even waving off the Bombers' sidelines to keep backup Alex Brink on the bench. Pierce, who has a long history of injuries over his eight-year career that has prompted suggestions he should retire, said there was never a question whether he'd remain in the game.
"A lot of people said I shouldn't play, I should rest till the end of the season and all that stuff," he said. "But I'm playing.
"This is my decision. I want to be out there with my guys because I have pride and I think that's what this game is about.''
Toronto's fifth loss in six games, tarnished a solid return by Ricky Ray. The veteran quarterback, who missed three straight games with a knee injury, finished 20-of-33 passing for 383 yards and four TDs, his 14-yard strike to Jason Barnes pulling the Argos to within 37-32 at 11:48 of the fourth.
Toronto had one last gasp, taking the ball at its 12-yard line with 1:19 remaining. But defensive tackle Andre Carroll cemented the win for Winnipeg, recovering Ray's fumble at the Argos' 22-yard line with 1:03 to play, setting up Ford's five-yard TD run at 14:51.
Andre Durie had six catches for a game-high 128 yards and a touchdown for Toronto while Owens finished with five receptions for 108 yards. Barnes caught four passes for 71 yards, three being for TDs.
"We were able to do a lot of good things offensively, still some things we've got to get cleaned up,'' said Ray, who played with a knee brace he'll have to wear for the rest of the season. "I missed a few throws here and there that could have kept some drives going.
"Obviously having a couple of turnovers didn't help out."
Winnipeg forced three turnovers (including two Chad Owens fumbles) and had the ball for over 38 minutes. And for the second straight week Toronto couldn't come up with a crucial victory after dropping a 24-12 home decision last weekend to Montreal with top spot in the East Division on the line.
Toronto's loss on Friday clinched the Alouettes' East Division title.
"It's disappointing," said head coach Scott Milanovich. "We've had our chances to take care of business and we haven't.
"Our destiny has been in our hands.''
And it's still there as Toronto can clinch second in the East Division by winning one of its two remaining contests (against Saskatchewan and Hamilton) and having the Ticats lose one of their last three contests.
Jason Vega scored Winnipeg's other touchdown. Palardy added the converts and three field goals.
Toronto's Swayze Waters booted four converts, a single and field goal.
Simpson's 14-yard TD run at 13:08 of the second quarter staked Winnipeg to a 24-21 half-time advantage, a score that flattered Toronto considering the Bombers dominated the first in storming out to a 14-0 advantage. Ray erased the deficit with three TD strikes in the second, including an eight-yard toss to Barnes at 12:08 that put the Argos ahead 21-17.
Winnipeg thoroughly controlled the first, registering nine first downs (to one for Toronto) and 118 offensive yards. After Brink's four-yard touchdown pass to Vega at 11:27 opened the scoring, Brink added a one-yard TD run at 13:08. It was set up by James Green's recovery of Chad Owens' fumble on a kickoff at the Argos' 28-yard line.
NOTES — Receiver Ken-Yon Rambo was among Toronto's scratches while Winnipeg slotback Terrence Edwards, who needs 11 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the fifth time in his CFL career, also didn't dress either . . . Veteran Adriano Belli, 35, who came out of retirement Wednesday to rejoin the Argos, started at defensive tackle . . . How important is Ray to Toronto's offence? Prior to Friday's game, the Argos averaged 304 yards passing in 11 complete games Ray has played and just 197 yards over the four contests he hasn't appeared in . . . Winnipeg's eight turnovers in last weekend's 32-21 loss to Calgary marked the third time this season the club has registered seven or more turnovers in a game.