Lirim Hajrullahu’s late field goal earns Argos 39-36 home win over winless Elks

Edmonton Elks quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson (10) throws a pass under pressure from linebacker Wynton McManis (48) and defensive lineman Ralph Holley (99) during second half CFL football action in Toronto, Saturday, June 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Cameron Dukes and the Toronto Argonauts’ ground game proved to be too much for the Edmonton Elks on Saturday night.

Lirim Hajrullahu’s 37-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Argonauts to an entertaining 39-36 win over Edmonton.

Dukes threw for 214 yards and two TDs, but it was the Argos’ 186-yard rushing effort that anchored the victory before an announced BMO Field gathering of 10,857.

“It (effective ground attack) makes the job a lot easier when you’ve got to respect both games (pass and run),” Dukes said. “Our offensive line does an absolutely amazing job.

“The holes were unbelievable, Ka’Deem Carey just runs so hard, all of our running backs do. It’s great to have that.”

Carey rushed for a game-high 104 yards and a TD on 19 carries.

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Deonta McMahon added 50 yards and a touchdown on four carries while Dukes had a major and two-point convert in his four carries for 17 yards.

Canadian Daniel Adeboboye contributed 15 yards on two carries.

“It was huge,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of the rushing game. “Ka’Deem really showed up.

“He battled through a little thing at halftime, I was going to sit him and let the other guys go. He’s a warrior and played well.”

Hajrullahu’s boot came after Janarion Grant’s 17-yard punt return.

Former Argo Javon Leake opted to handle a bouncing 55-yard John Haggerty punt at the Edmonton one-yard line but stepped out of bounds following a four-yard return.

After two incompletions, the Elks (0-3) had to punt, giving Toronto (2-0) possession at Edmonton’s 45-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.

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Dinwiddie pondered having Haggerty boot the single but decided against it because that would’ve given Edmonton possession at its 40-yard line.

“I said, ‘Let’s pin them and if we stop them we’re going to get into field goal range,” Dinwiddie said.

“I mean that (Jake Julien’s 57-yard punt) was a great punt (but) Grant had a great return.”

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Dukes had another solid outing, completing 18-of-21 passes.

The loss spoiled Edmonton quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s return. The former Argo starter was 28-of-38 passing for 342 yards and four TDs, tying a career high.

Bethel-Thompson spent five seasons with Toronto (2017-19, 21-22) and was part of two Grey Cup-winning teams.

He led the CFL in passing in 2022 before spending the ’23 campaign with the USFL’s Boston Breakers.

Bethel-Thompson signed a one-year deal with Edmonton during the off-season.

“He played great,” Dinwiddie said of Bethel-Thompson. “The tough part is we allowed him to throw the ball down the seam (and) throw the field throws, that’s what he’s good at.

“I wanted him to throw those go balls with air and let’s go compete for it. I thought Mac played well, he battled his butt off just like he always does.”

Bethel-Thompson was among seven former Argos in Edmonton’s lineup.

The others were quarterback Dakota Prukop, receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr., offensive lineman Shane Richards, defensive lineman Sam Acheampong, kicker Boris Bede, Leake and defensive back Josh Hagerty.

Toronto defensive lineman Jake Ceresna (three tackles, sack) faced his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto in the off-season, a deal that saw Gittens head to Edmonton.

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Edmonton didn’t do itself any favours when rookie Joel Dublanko was flagged for contacting Haggerty. That allowed Toronto to maintain possession until Haggerty’s punt to the Elks’ one-yard line.

Prukop’s one-yard TD run at 11:10 tied the score 36-36. Edmonton got the ball at the Toronto two-yard line after a review deemed pass interference on Argo DaShaun Amos.

Dukes’s 36-yard TD to Damonte Coxie at 5:25 staked Toronto to a 36-29, capping a smart six-play, 84-yard drive.

Bethel-Thompson’s eight-yard TD pass to Gittens Jr. at 2:18 tied the score 29-29.

It came two plays after Bethel-Thompson appeared to hit Dillon Mitchell on a 71-yard TD strike but the command centre deemed he was down by contact at the Toronto 35-yard line.

The win was Toronto’s 11th straight at home and it improved to 6-0 coming off a bye.

Rasheed Bailey scored Toronto’s other touchdown. Hajrullahu booted four converts and the field goal.

Mitchell, Eugene Lewis and Hergy Mayala had Edmonton’s other touchdowns. Bede added the converts while Julien had a single.

Mitchell finished with five catches for a game-high 120 yards.

Carey and Dukes combined to put Toronto ahead 29-22 at 12:54 of the third. Carey scored on a four-run run before Dukes added the two-point conversion.

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Mayala’s 10-yard TD grab at 7:04 of the third put Edmonton ahead 22-21. It was set up by Loucheiz Purifoy’s interception of McMahon’s option pass and 18-yard return to the Toronto 23-yard line.

Julien’s 60-yard punt single at 13:04 of the second cut Toronto’s halftime lead to 21-15. The Argos had 109 rushing yards and two TDs on 14 attempts while the Elks’ aerial attack accumulated 186 yards with two scores.


Elks: Head to Vancouver to play the B.C. Lions (2-1) on Thursday.

Argonauts: Host the unbeaten Montreal Alouettes (3-0) on Friday.

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