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Argonauts rally to edge Blue Bombers

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The Toronto Argonauts swung a leg out of the 0-6-0 hole they had dug themselves, but they did it the hard way Thursday.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit S.J. Green for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining and the Argonauts rallied from a 20-0 deficit to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-27 for their first win of the CFL season.

His team down 20-10, Toronto coach Corey Chamblin said the gist of his halftime message was “Finish and this will be your finest moment.”

The end came on Bethel-Thompson’s third TD pass of the game, with newly acquired quarterback Zach Collaros watching from the sidelines.

“I let go,” said Bethel-Thompson, who completed 37-of-49 passes for 343 yards and ran for 44 yards more. “Last couple of weeks I’ve been getting in my own way. Tonight I just got out of my own way.”

The Argos avoided a repeat of the 0-7-0 start they had in 1981 when they started 0-9-0 and finished a league-worst 2-14-0.

“Like I told the guys, that storm tested us,” Chamblin said of the losing streak. “It taught us to believe in one another, it taught us how to fight. Tonight was about learning how to finish. And they did learn to finish.”

“Tonight we stepped up and grew up,” he added.

Down 27-21, Toronto pushed for the win and drove the ball to the Winnipeg 16-yard line as the clock wound down. But Willie Jefferson forced a Bethel-Thompson fumble to snuff out the 12-play, 77-yard drive.

Toronto had one more chance and got it right this time on a 71-yard, nine-play drive.

“This is a long time coming,” said Green, who had 10 catches for 120 yards. “It’s been the worst of the worst every game. For us this is the first and biggest win of the year.”

Bethel-Thompson noted the win came despite a string of errors.

“We have a lot to get better at. That’s the exciting part. The team that can be in this dressing room is dominant. We have warriors everywhere.”

As they did in a 48-21 loss in Winnipeg on July 12, the Argonauts fell behind early. But this time they came back. The Argo offence kept grinding and the defence began to blunt the Bombers (5-2-0).

Trailing 20-0, the Argonauts scored 10 points late in the first half. After a Toronto field goal made it 20-13 early in the third, a 78-yard Chris Rainey punt return took the ball to the Winnipeg seven-yard line. After Derel Walker dropped a pass in the end zone, Toronto won a coach’s challenge on the next play asking for pass interference.

Bethel-Thompson then found six-foot-six, 305-pound lineman Jamal Campbell, an eligible receiver, for a one-yard TD, tying the game at 20-20 midway through the third.

Matt Nichols hit Chris Matthews for a seven-yard strike to put Winnipeg up 27-20 at 2:12 of the fourth after a drive fuelled by Andrew Harris.

A Zack Medeiros single cut the lead to 27-21.

Harris ran for two touchdowns for Winnipeg. Justin Medlock kicked two field goals and added three conversions.

Rodney Scott hauled in a TD pass for Toronto and Tyler Crapigna kicked two field goals and three conversions.

Toronto trailed 13-0 after a first quarter that saw Harris notch his longest run of the season for a 56-yard TD. Harris rushed for 107 yards in the first half alone and 152 in total on 15 carries.

Things went from bad to worse late in the first quarter when Shayne Gauthier blocked a Toronto punt and the Argos were called for intentional grounding on an ugly third down that left the Bombers with the ball on the Argos 16-yard line. The Toronto defence held the visitors to a field goal, however.

Toronto escaped further punishment in the second quarter when Harris fumbled — for the fourth time this season — on the Argos’ seven-yard line. But a 13-yard run by Harris later in the quarter increased the Winnipeg lead.

Toronto finally got on the board late in the half on a 45-yard field goal by Crapigna — the Argos’ first points since the third quarter of a July 18 loss in Calgary.

Smith then capped an eight-play Toronto drive with a 12-yard reception from Bethel-Thompson with 47 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to 20-10.

A Brandon Burks 55-yard TD reception from a Toronto screen pass was called back for holding early in the third quarter. The Argos settled for a field goal, making it 20-13 after a 10-play, 55-yard drive.

Toronto has a bye next week before hosting Edmonton on Aug. 16.

Thursday marked Toronto’s first home game in 26 days. The Argos were coming off a three-game western swing that saw them outscored 100-37 in losses at Winnipeg (48-21), Calgary (26-16) and Edmonton (26-0).

The Argos last posted a regular-season win on Oct. 20, 2018, when they defeated Montreal 26-22 — the lone victory in a 1-9-0 end to the regular season.

Winnipeg saw its five-game win streak snapped last time out in a 23-15 loss in Hamilton.

“We had a tough night last week, we had one tough tonight,” said Nichols, who completed 21-of-31 passes for 169 yards. “It’s not a skid, we just haven’t played our best football the last two weeks. It’s just getting back to the details. I’m going to work harder, get the guys around me to work harder, make sure we come back and play better next week. That’s all it is.”

The Argos did not announce attendance for a second home game in a row. The crowd was modest, however.

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Don Cherry comes back with a new show

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They may have knocked Don Cherry to the ice with a hit he didn’t see coming.

Now watch him get back up.

You people out there who want the 85-year-old Cherry back, here’s the news you have been hoping for.  You people who wanted him to fade away are out of luck as the former NHL coach of the year is going to be able to exercise his free speech, after all.

Don Cherry’s Grapevine is back once again. This time as a podcast.

Coach’s Corner may be “no more” as his one-time Hockey Night in Canada sidekick Ron MacLean announced on Saturday. Cherry was fired by Rogers and Sportsnet for his “you people” who “come here” comment that was misunderstood and later spun as discriminatory.

Cherry wanted his opportunity to properly explain it. Now he is going to get that chance.

You read it right: Don Cherry and his no-holds-barred views are coming back on the air.

The Toronto Sun has learned you won’t have to wait long for the first installment of the new Grapevine. It will drop Tuesday morning and be available on Spotify and other streaming services every Monday during the hockey season.

And yes, the very first one will address Cherry’s firing from Sportsnet.

“But that’s not all we talked about,” Cherry told me Monday. “We are talking hockey, of course. It’s going to be terrific. In this one I am talking about The Rocket (Maurice Richard), one of the all-time greats.”

One thing for sure about the new show is MacLean will not be in his foxhole.

So who will be?

You may have noticed the word “we” in Don’s comments and since so many scrutinize every word he says and what he means by it, I asked.

Turns out Grapes has a new co-host. And perhaps hosts.

“My son, Tim, is going to do it with me and my grandson Del,” said Grapes. 

At least he knows they won’t turn on him when the waters get rough as MacLean did.

“They did great,” Don said of Tim and Del. ”I think people are really going to enjoy this one and the ones we do down the road.”

Tim Cherry tells me the plan is to tape and post it every Monday.

“That way we cover off what happened on the weekend in hockey,” said Tim. “It’s going to be fun.”

For Don’s fans, who are already missing him and unlikely to tune into whatever Sportsnet comes up with to replace the 38-year-old segment, this will give them the opportunity to hear what he has to say. For Don himself, it will connect him with the hockey fans and players he loves while getting back on horse quickly.

It will be in audio broadcast to start with but Tim says it could grow into a TV-style show with cameras and sponsors.

If The Grapevine title sounds familiar it’s because Don’s television show, which Tim produced, was on the air from 1982-93 — filmed in Hamilton.

The new project will feature Don talking about the NHL and hockey and whatever he wants without any censorship.

If he wants to talk about poppies, he can do it without being fired. If he wants to talk about the troops or cops or firefighters or honour the fallen, no one can tell him to keep his nose out of it.

Mostly the plan is to talk hockey. And he won’t have just seven minutes to get it all out.

“The first podcast is about half an hour,” said Tim.

But if they ever find themselves in a position to need more time, or less, the beauty of podcasts is there are no constricting rules.

It also keeps Grapes in game shape while he considers other potential TV offers and opportunities.

Mostly it’s just the perfect outlet for Don Cherry to do what he does best: Be Don Cherry.

Yes Coach’s Corner is over: The new Grapevine has just been planted. Just call this the coach’s comeback! 

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Injuries sideline Habs Drouin, Byron indefinitely

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Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron will be out of the lineup indefinitely as the result of injuries they suffered in Friday night’s win over the Capitals in Washington.

Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron will be out of the lineup indefinitely as the result of injuries they suffered in Friday night’s win over the Capitals in Washington.

Drouin underwent wrist surgery on Monday, and Byron is scheduled to undergo knee surgery on Tuesday.

“We’ll a better idea of a timeline after the surgery,” coach Claude Julien said after the Canadiens practised in preparation for Tuesday’s road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

The Canadiens recalled Charles Hudon from Laval. He played Saturday against New Jersey and was sent back to the minors after the game.

Julien said Carey Price will start in goal, and he will wait to decide on a goaltender for Wednesday’s home game against the Ottawa Senators.

phickey@postmedia.com

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NHL commissioner says Ron MacLean spoke from the heart

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TORONTO — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Sportsnet broadcaster Ron MacLean “spoke from the heart” during his monologue on “Hockey Night in Canada” over the weekend.

MacLean opened the first intermission segment on Saturday night — the first since Cherry was fired last week — by speaking alone on camera for nearly five minutes.

Bettman, a panellist at today’s PrimeTime sports management conference in downtown Toronto, says MacLean “obviously made his feelings clear.”

Bettman declined to weigh in on Cherry’s departure, saying he’s not going to start another news cycle.

Cherry used the phrase, “You people,” during the “Coach’s Corner” segment on Nov. 9 but later denied that he was singling out visible minorities.

MacLean, who apologized the day after, talked at length about his close relationship with Cherry but said he had to choose “principle over friendship,” adding “Coach’s Corner is no more.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.

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