The Toronto Argonauts are off to a good start without their starting quarterback.
James Franklin passed for one touchdown and rushed for another in his Argos starting debut as Toronto beat the Edmonton Eskimos 20-17 on Saturday at BMO Field.
“He had great poise today,” Argos coach Marc Trestman said after the first game of a home-and-home series. “He made some key plays when we needed him to and he got the throws when we needed the throws.”
The Argos (1-2) were playing their first game this season without regular starter Ricky Ray, who was carted off with what is believed to be a season-ending neck injury in their last contest. Franklin, playing against his former team, finished the game 16-for-22 for 217 yards passing.
“The thing I was most concerned about was the chemistry with the guys and how they would respond to me in the huddle,” Franklin said.
The results were promising. Franklin guided the team on a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. A five-yard touchdown pass to Canadian fullback Declan Cross put Toronto up by one and a two-point conversion pass to Armanti Edwards from Franklin capped the scoring with 2:57 left.
“Having a win against your former team in your first start is big, it’s a confidence booster,” Toronto running back James Wilder Jr. said.
Wilder had a rushing touchdown and carried the ball 21 times for 120 yards.
The Eskimos (2-2), meanwhile, weren’t surprised by Franklin’s performance.
“What he displayed out there is what we’ve seen the past two years,” Edmonton coach Jason Maas said of Franklin. “At the end of the day, the last two drives (Franklin ran the clock out to finish it) were enough to win them the game.”
The Eskimos (2-2) lost despite a productive game from quarterback Mike Reilly, who was 28-for-40 for 370 yards and one touchdown.
The Argonauts opened the scoring on the first drive of the game. Franklin called his own number for a two-yard rushing TD. Toronto kicker Ronnie Pfeffer missed the convert attempt to keep the score at 6-0.
The Eskimos turned over the ball on their opening drive as Cassius Vaughn stripped it from Edmonton running back C.J. Gable, allowing Shawn Lemon to recover.
That gave Toronto a short field, and Wilder recorded a five-yard touchdown rush. A two-point convert attempt failed and Toronto led 12-0.
Edmonton got on the board late in the first quarter after kicker Sean Whyte missed a 32-yard field goal attempt, settling for a single.
The Eskimos continued to cut Toronto’s lead in the second quarter as Whyte connected on a 33-yard field goal.
Whyte hit a 40-yard field goal in the final minute of the second quarter to trim Toronto’s lead to 12-7.
Despite trailing at the break, Edmonton dominated time of possession. They had the ball for 18:47 of the opening half compared to 11:13 for the Argonauts.
Toronto committed its first turnover in the third quarter as Franklin’s pass was intercepted by Maurice McKnight on Edmonton’s 20-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Reilly connected with Derel Walker on a 24-yard TD pass and the extra point put Edmonton ahead 14-12.
Edmonton added to its lead in the fourth quarter when Whyte hit a 41-yard field goal to make it 17-12.
“We got ourselves on a roll and we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties,” Reilly said. “It came down to discipline, especially on offence.”
Edmonton committed 12 penalties for 126 yards compared to seven penalties for 75 yards from Toronto.
NOTES: Attendance was 12,196. … The teams will meet again on Friday in Edmonton.