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Veteran Bethel-Thompson throws two touchdown passes to lead Argonauts past Alouettes

Toronto Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie heads into the bye week with a winning record and an interesting situation at quarterback.

Toronto Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie heads into the bye week with a winning record and an interesting situation at quarterback.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw two touchdown passes as a short-handed Toronto squad beat the Montreal Alouettes 30-27 on Friday night. The Argos (4-3) hit the halfway point of their season above .500 with Bethel-Thompson and youngster Nick Arbuckle both winning two starts.

Bethel-Thompson played Friday night with Arbuckle (hamstring) ailing. Dinwiddie has time to ponder who'll start Oct. 6 when Toronto hosts the Ottawa Redblacks.

"I don't want to make that call right now," Dinwiddie said during Toronto's post-game videoconference. "We'll get into it once we get back from the bye.

"I thought Mac played well, he was outstanding. We'll continue to grow from it but I feel like I've got two starting quarterbacks."

Backup Antonio Pipkin, a former Als starter, completed two-of-three passes for 34 yards while rushing four times for 13 yards.

Toronto improved to 3-0 at BMO Field despite missing Arbuckle and Canadian linebackers Henoc Muamba (hamstring) and Cam Jordan (ankle). Before the game the Argos announced starting receiver Eric Rogers wouldn't play, with Damion Jeanpiere coming off the practice roster to record four receptions for a team-high 91 yards.

"I think we've got a lot of potential . . . but we're still not playing up to our standard," said Dinwiddie, in his first season as CFL head coach. "We want to be better, we've got to be better and we'll continue to work to get better . . . but I think we're going in the right direction."

Bethel-Thompson earned his second win in three starts this season while a Toronto defence -- with new consultant Chris Jones calling the plays -- allowed 560 net yards but forced four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles). Montreal came in leading the CFL in rushing (149.4 yards per game), offensive scoring (23.8 points), net offence (385.6 yards) and fewest sacks allowed (five).

Yet the Alouettes continually hurt themselves with turnovers and penalties (11 for 129 yards). However,  David Cote's 38-yard field goal at 8:44 of the fourth quarter pulled Montreal to within 27-20 until Boris Bede's 37-yard boot at 13:00 put Toronto ahead 30-20 before a BMO Field gathering of 7,758.

Vernon Adams Jr.'s 27-yard touchdown pass to Jake Weineke at 14:05 made it a three-point game but Toronto recovered the onside kick with 53 seconds remaining. Montreal got the ball back with 11 seconds at its 12-yard line but there'd be no miracle comeback.

"We didn't give them touchdowns, that's key," Dinwiddie said. "Holding those guys to field goals down there twice was huge.

"We know Chris is new, the scheme is new and we'll continue to add more in the bye week. We feel like we've just got to get better conditioning on that side of the ball, that's why we had some missed tackles. We'll get better there."

Bethel-Thompson finished 13-of-19 passing for 210 yards and the two touchdowns. In 2019, he threw a CFL-best 26 TD passes and was third in passing (4,024 yards).

Montreal's William Stanback ran for 133 yards and a TD on 19 carries. Adams Jr. finished 30-of-39 passing for 382 yards and two TDs with two interceptions. 

Alouettes linebacker Patrick Levels said the loss was squarely on the defence.

"It doesn't matter what the offence does . . . the defence has to play better," he said. "I don't care about no offence, don't ask me nothing about offence. 

"Ask me about defence because that's where our problem lies. We've got to stop guys from scoring, simple as that."

The season doesn't get any easier for Montreal, which visits Hamilton (4-3) next weekend. The Tiger-Cats have won 11 straight at Tim Hortons Field.

"We just have to get this little monkey off our back," Levels said. "I promise you, you're all going to be talking to me totally different come a couple of weeks from now.

" I promise you."

Kurleigh Gittens Jr., D.J. Foster and Chandler Worthy had Toronto's touchdowns. Bede added the converts and three field goals in his first game against his former team.

Eugene Lewis had Montreal's other touchdown. Cote booted the converts and two field goals.

Montreal opened the second half with a smart eight-play, 65-yard march. But it ended with Crezdon Butler recovering B.J. Cunningham's fumble at Toronto's 10-yard line. 

Stanback's three-yard TD run at 12:36 of the third pulled Montreal to within 21-17. Toronto then countered with Bede's 29-yard field goal to open the fourth leading 24-17.

Bethel-Thompson's 45-yard touchdown pass to Worthy with nine seconds remaining staked the Argos to a 21-10 half-time lead as they ended the quarter scoring 14 points within 42 seconds. Foster put Toronto ahead 14-10 with a three-yard run at 14:09.

Worthy's touchdown came just two plays after Chris Edwards intercepted Adams Jr. and gave Toronto possession at centre field. Montreal trailed at the half despite having rushed for 96 yards and holding the ball for over 18 minutes.

Bethel-Thompson was a stellar 11-of-13 passing for 173 yards and the two TDs.

Montreal took a 10-7 lead on Cote's 17-yard field goal at 8:27. It was set up by Rashaun Simonise's recovery of Worthy's kickoff return fumble at the Toronto 42-yard line.

The Alouettes were kicking off after Adams Jr.'s seven-yard touchdown pass to Lewis at 2:57 made it 7-7.

Worthy said he was anxious to atone for his miscue.

"I just locked in on the moment and focused because I had to give back my teammates what I'd lost them," he said. "It wasn't even about me, it was just giving back to our defence, giving back to my offence because I put us in a bad situation.

"So that's all my mind was focused on: By any means I've got to get into the endzone."

Toronto opened the scoring with Bethel-Thompson's 15-yard TD strike to Gittens Jr. at 11:39 of the first.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press