The Toronto Argonauts delivered a poor all-around performance on the road Saturday afternoon at Vancouver's Empire Field, falling 37-16 to the on-the-rise B.C. Lions. It was the Lions' first home win of the season, and their first win at the Empire Field location since a September 18 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the old Empire Stadium back in 1982. They improved to 3-7 on the year with the victory and hauled themselves out of the West Division's basement, while Toronto fell to 5-5 and remains tied with Hamilton for second in the East Division.
B.C. did plenty of things right yesterday, particularly through the air. Casey Printers completed 25 of his 39 pass attempts for 302 yards and two touchdowns and birthday boy Geroy Simon made seven catches for 133 yards, passing former Saskatchewan slotback Ray Elgaard for fith on the all-time CFL receiving list in the process. They also got it done on the ground despite the absence of Jamal Robertson, who missed the game thanks to a cracked rib suffered last week against Montreal. Former San Jose State Spartan Yonus Davis showed his speed with 52 yards on 12 carries, and Toronto-born Graceland University product Jerome Messam provided the brute force, only collecting 24 yards on eight carries but picking up a pair of touchdowns in the process. The Lions still struggled in areas, including ball security and pass blocking, but on the whole, they proved that optimism about them despite their poor record wasn't entirely unfounded.
For all of the Lions' successes, though, this game was really defined by what Toronto did wrong. The Toronto Star's Chris Zelkovich described it as a comedy of errors, which is pretty accurate, but you can bet that many Toronto fans weren't laughing. Toronto lost superstar running back Cory Boyd midway through the game after a hard hit left him dazed, which won't help down the road. More than his absence, though, it was the Argonauts' own mistakes that took them down; they missed two field goals, took numerous dumb penalties and turned the ball over five times with three fumbles, one interception and a turnover on downs.
It was one of those fumbles that will make this game memorable, however. Early in the fourth quarter, B.C. was leading 34-16 when their patched-together offensive line was exposed. Former B.C. linebacker Jay Pottinger raced through a hole and hit Lions' quarterback Casey Printers, forcing a fumble. Toronto defensive end Ronald Flemons (pictured, right, in a better moment against Saskatchewan in 2009) had the presence of mind to grab the ball rather than just falling on it, and with open field ahead, he was off to the races. Flemons isn't going to outrun too many running backs or wide receivers, but he had enough of a head start to give him a clear path to the end zone. He seemed sure to score, but with no one around, lost control of the ball at the one-yard line and tripped into the end zone with the ball flying out of his arms. It was promptly recovered by B.C. slotback O'Neil Wilson, leading to a touchback that gave the Lions the ball instead of seven points that would have put Toronto within striking distance. Check out the video of what might just be the most ridiculous CFL play of this season after the jump.
Of course, this is hardly the first time a player's lost control of the ball shortly before an easy touchdown. DeSean Jackson famously did the same thing with the Eagles on Monday Night Football in 2008, and was also known for premature celebrations in high school and college. However, the officials signaled a touchdown, leaving the Cowboys to ignore the loose ball. Upon review, the play was overturned, the Eagles got it back on the one-yard line and Brian Westbrook punched it in for a touchdown shortly thereafter. Here's video of Jackson's error.
On an even bigger stage, Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe closed 1993's Super Bowl XXVII with a moral victory for the blown-out Bills on a similar play. With the Cowboys up 52-17 late in the game, Dallas defensive tackle Leon Lett recovered a fumble and set off for the end zone. Lett started showboating early, unaware that Beebe was in hot pursuit. Beebe caught up and knocked the ball out of Lett's hand just before the goal line, and it rolled through the end zone for a touchback that gave the Bills the ball back. It meant nothing in terms of the outcome of the game, but remains one of the most memorable Super Bowl moments:
Of course, there's always the play that has gone down in history as just "The Fumble". Denver was leading Cleveland 21-3 at halftime of the 1988 AFC Championship game, but quarterback Bernie Kosar and running back Earnest Byner got the Browns back in the game. The score was tied 31-31 late in the fourth before John Elway led a drive that put the Broncos up 38-31. Kosar drove the Browns down to the Broncos' eight with 1:12 left, and then handed the ball to Byner. Byner looked sure to score, but was stripped of the ball by Denver defensive back Jeremiah Castille. The Broncos recovered the ball, conceded a safety and hung on for a 38-33 win. You can see that below (skip to 6:55).
Even yesterday's Penn State - Alabama NCAA game featured a similarly bizarre play. Penn State fumbled and Alabama recovered, but the Crimson Tide player who had the ball was stripped of it near the goal line. Another Alabama player scooped it up, but couldn't control it, and the loose ball went right back to the Nittany Lions, who recovered just shy of their own goal line. You can find some very blurry video of that (with audience commentary!) here.
Of all those fumbles, Flemons' may be the worst when you look at his own actions, the significance of the play and its eventual result. Byner's fumble was certainly the most significant in terms of the specific situation, but it isn't his fault that Castille was unblocked and made a superb play to strip the ball. The various fumbles in the Penn State-Alabama game weren't really as the result of bad offensive plays and don't appear to have made much of a difference, as the Tide clobbered Penn State 24-3. Lett's showboating was stupid and took place on football's biggest stage, but he didn't lose the ball on his own. That was thanks to Beebe's superlative effort, and Lett's fumble really didn't wind up affecting the game at all. Jackson's play may have been even dumber than Flemons', but it produced a negligible result as the Eagles punched the ball in on the next series.
Flemons lost the ball all on his own, and his fumble may have produced a significant effect on the game; we'll never know if a touchdown there might have inspired a Toronto comeback in what could turn out to be a crucial game. On the bright side, though, he didn't injure himself in the process. That puts him one up on another famous Argonaut, quarterback Kerwin Bell, who caused life to imitate art on this legendary 2000 play: