Emphatic defensive performance anchors Lions’ 18-9 road victory over Argonauts

TORONTO – Another week, another defensive shutout for Byron Parker, Lin-J Shell and the CFL’s top-ranked unit.

B.C.’s defence forced four turnovers and didn’t allow a touchdown for the second straight game to anchor the Lions’ 18-9 win over the Toronto Argonauts on Monday night, with both teams heading into their bye week.

B.C. (4-2) earned its second straight win, thanks in large part to its defence. The Lions came into Monday’s game off a dominating 34-8 decision over Calgary, holding the Stampeders two field goals and a safety to snap a mini two-game losing streak.

The emphatic victory was especially sweet for Parker and Shell, former Argos defensive backs making their first return to Rogers Centre with their new team. And both contributed to the Lions’ defensive effort as Shell – who was released by Toronto in January – had four tackles and a fumble recovery while Parker – who spent seven years in Double Blue before signing with B.C. as a free agent – added three tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown in the first half that came back due to a penalty.

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“We know if teams can’t score touchdowns on us we can’t lose, it’s as easy as that,” Parker said. “This was a home game for Lin-J and I and this is a place where we’ve both made plays so coming here and playing bad wasn’t really an option for us.

“It would’ve been nice had that (interception return TD) stood up but everybody in the stands knows I scored and I’m fine with that. It helped set the tone early for us and I’m just excited we came in and got a victory.”

Shell said the Lions’ defensive performance was a statement to the rest of the CFL.

“That was 10 times more important than any individual accolade could ever be,” Shell said. “(Argos starter) Ricky Ray is a great quarterback and we were able to keep him out of the end zone,

“Across the league, that speaks for us and we have to try to keep doing that.”

B.C.’s outstanding defensive play also ensured a victorious homecoming for Mike Benevides, a Toronto native making his first appearance in his hometown as a CFL head coach. How the Lions won was also especially gratifying for Benevides, who served as the Lions’ defensive co-ordinator before taking over as head coach when Wally Buono stepped down following last year’s Grey Cup win.

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“The defence, gosh, is playing so well it’s freakish right now,” Benevides said. “I think what the fans got tonight was two outstanding defences really battling it out.

“Fortunately for us we started real fast with some turnovers and scored 10 points off of those, which was huge.”

B.C.’s defence set the tone early, intercepting Ray on Toronto’s opening two offensive possessions that helped the Lions surge into a 10-0 lead. The Argos’ offence never recovered, finishing with 220 nets yards as Ray finished 25-of-34 passing for 215 yards and three interceptions while being sacked four times.

“They made it tough on us all night,” said Ray. “When they get into your face you can’t see what’s developing downfield and the clock is ticking.

“With a team that good, turning it over four times is not a winning combination.”

Toronto’s defence certainly deserved a better fate.

The Argos stopped tailback Andrew Harris three times from their one-yard line, including on a third-down gamble with B.C. leading 11-9. But the defending Grey Cup champions got a fresh set of downs when Toronto’s Marcus Ball was called for offside.

That allowed backup quarterback Mike Reilly to score at 6:19 of the fourth and put the game out of reach, disappointing the generously announced gathering of 22,841 on a brilliant summer evening with the Rogers Centre roof rolled back.

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Ray took Toronto on a promising march late but Dante Marsh’s interception ended the comeback bid. Appropriately in a penalty-filled game, an illegal block on Marsh’s return put the Lions at their 11-yard line with 2:03 left but Harris’s 33-yard run helped B.C. run out the clock for the win.

Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, the CFL’s outstanding player last season, was 18-of-27 passing for 205 yards and a TD and credited his defence for the win.

“They set the tone right from the get-go,” he said. “Those first two series we were able to put 10 points on the board right out of the gate and it was tough sledding after that but those were huge plays.

“The way they held in the second half, a phenomenal effort by those guys.”

Penalties were a factor as the two teams were flagged 27 times for 190 yards. The Lions were their own worst enemy with 16 penalties for 100 yards, including an offside call that negated Parker’s interception return TD in the first half that would’ve put B.C. ahead 17-0.

“We played with an edge that I appreciate but we need to be more disciplined,” Benevides said. “Overall we need to be better in that part of it.”

Still, B.C. earned its second straight win and continued its dominance of Toronto, beating the Argos for the 14th time in 15 meetings and seventh time in eight meetings at Rogers Centre.

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Toronto (3-3) lost for the first time in three games in a contest affectionately dubbed The Braley Bowl because Hamilton businessman David Braley owns both CFL clubs.

“It’s disappointing we didn’t play better but that said, they should’ve won the game,” Argos first-year head coach Scott Milanovich said. “You want to go off the field feeling you did all that you could but I don’t think we can feel that way.”

Lions veteran slotback Geroy Simon had two catches for 26 yards, extending his consecutive games streak with at least a reception to 166. That’s second-best in CFL history behind Donald Narcisse’s mark of 216 straight contests.

Akeem Foster had B.C.’s other touchdown. Paul McCallum kicked two converts, a field goal and single.

Swayze Waters booted three field goals for Toronto.

NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game in memory of Greg Mohns, a former front-office executive with Toronto and one-time Lions head coach who passed away recently of throat cancer at the age of 62 . . . American tennis player John Isner performed the ceremonial opening kickoff . . . Argos tailback Cory Boyd celebrated his 27th birthday Monday . . . These two teams meet again Sept. 15 at B.C. Place . . . Lions defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., warmed up with the Jamaican flag draped over his shoulders a day sprinter Usain Bolt captured the Olympic 100-metre title in London . . . . Tailback Chad Kackert and receiver Maurice Mann were among Toronto’s scratches for the game. Defensive back Josh Bell and linebacker Anton McKenzie didn’t dress for B.C.

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