THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO -- Noel Prefontaine and the Toronto Argonauts won the battle and war of attrition Saturday night.
Prefontaine's single with 23 seconds remaining earned Toronto a wild 25-24 win over a battered Winnipeg Blue Bombers squad that lost seven players, including starter Buck Pierce and backup Alex Brink.
Argos head coach/GM Jim Barker wasn't going to let Winnipeg's injury woes tarnish the victory for his beleaguered team before a paltry Rogers Centre gathering of 19,108.
“All I know is it was a win for us,” Barker said. “I don't care that they lost their quarterbacks, tonight the team with the worst record in the league beat the team with the best.”
With a little luck, mind you.
Prefontaine missed a 38-yard field goal try but Toronto tackled returner Jovon Johnson in the end zone for the single. In keeping with the bizarre nature of the night, Prefontaine's boot came after his initial try hit the upright but officials had called the play dead seconds before after a whistle was blown from the stands.
“The worst part about that is it's a dead ball when it hits the crossbar like that and it's still a tie game,” Bombers coach Paul LaPolice said. “We had a return set up and I think someone blew one of the blocks and that forced (Johnson) to turn back and he couldn't get it out. You don't want to give up the point.
“But I was proud of our guys, they handled more adversity than I've ever seen in my 11 years and put themselves in position to win the game.”
Winnipeg (8-4) suffered its first loss to an East Division opponent in six games this year. In addition to Pierce and Brink, the Bombers finished with tailbacks Fred Reid and Carl Volny, offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte and Luke Fritz and defensive tackle Doug Brown on the sidelines.
LaPolice said Pierce felt sore and was prepared to continue playing before coach made the decision to go with a healthier Brink. Pierce finished 7-of-13 passing for 68 yards and an interception while Brink was 10-of-13 for 121 yards and a pick. Goltz completed three of his six passes for 36 yards.
“Buck said he was sore and wasn't sure if he could scramble around so I said, 'Get out, I'll put Alex in,”' LaPolice said. “I just wanted to protect him.
“I thought Alex did pretty well.”
Toronto didn't emerge unscathed either with Jyles (arm) and slotback Andre Durie (hip flexor) and offensive lineman Cedric Gagne-Marcoux (head) all being injured. But the Argos (3-9) halted a three-game losing streak and earned their first win in six tries against East Division rivals this season despite passing for just 88 yards.
Tailback Cory Boyd was the offensive catalyst with 109 yards on 12 carries against a Winnipeg defence that came in giving up just 89.9 yards rushing per game.
“We matched their intensity and smacked them in the mouth,” Boyd said. “It shows what we can do when we play four quarters.”
Wroten's sack capped a bizarre, sloppy affair that featured seven turnovers and 25 penalties for 207 yards. Toronto forced four turnovers but was also flagged 14 times for 147 yards.
Toronto's Lin-J Shell had a game-high 10 tackles while defensive end Ricky Foley added six tackles and two of the defence's four sacks.
Evan McCullough's 60-yard return off a lateral put Toronto ahead 22-17 at 14:18 of the third. Jamie Unertl recovered Terrence Edwards' fumble and returned it 12 yards before pitching to McCullough.
Just 25 seconds into the fourth, Anthony Cannon blocked a Mike Renaud punt at Winnipeg's 33-yard line. The Bombers' Clinton Kent recovered but was tackled for the safety to put Toronto ahead 24-17.
The contest took yet another bizarre twist at 10:41 when Toronto's Chad Owens fumbled a punt. Winnipeg recovered in the end zone but was penalized for interfering with Owens' recovery attempt as well as objectionable conduct, giving the Argos possession at their 35-yard line.
Winnipeg scored on Goltz's 18-yard TD strike to Clarence Denmark at 7:59, which was set up by Ian Logan's interception of former Bomber quarterback Steven Jyles.
Jyles faced his former team for the first time since being dealt to Toronto in March. Jyles ran for a TD and threw for another but was picked off three times, with one returned for a touchdown for the second straight game.
Jyles left late in the fourth after suffering a stinger, replaced by Dalton Bell. Jyles finished 11-of-20 passing for 88 yards while Bell threw no passes.
“Winnipeg was the best team in the league,” Jyles said. “To be able to play them close and win makes me feel great.”
Toronto paid tribute to its '91 Grey Cup-winning team at halftime and the team sported throwback uniforms and the 'A' insignia on their helmets. Prior to the game, members of the championship squad addressed the present-day Argos.
“I'm usually pretty good at pumping the guys up before the game,” said linebacker Erijo Kuale. “But after their speech, it was like electricity ran through my veins the entire game.”
Johnson and Glenn January scored Winnipeg's other touchdowns. Justin Palardy added the converts and a field goal.
Chad Rempel also had a touchdown for Toronto. Prefontaine booted three converts and another single.
January's fumble recovery in the end zone pulled Winnipeg to within 15-14 at the half. The former Argos offensive lineman gained possession of Volny's fumble at 14:20 of the second.
Johnson returned a Jyles interception 27 yards for a TD on Toronto's opening offensive play just 1:53 into the game. Jyles made up for it on the next possession, capping a six-play, 67-yard drive with an 18-yard run at 4:58.
After a Prefontaine single, Jyles staked Toronto to a 15-7 lead with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rempel just 56 seconds into the second.
Toronto was in glorious position to increase its lead when Byron Parker returned an interception 45 yards to the Winnipeg 21-yard line. But Grant Shaw botched the hold on a 22-yard field goal try, threw a pass to Prefontaine who heaved a throw downfield that Jonathan Hefney intercepted at the nine-yard line.
Notes: LaPolice began his CFL coaching career in Toronto as the club's quarteback/running back/receivers coach. He returned to the Argos in '06 as their receivers coach, spending two years in that post. ... Edwards signed with Toronto in '05 but was released prior to the end of training camp.