Lions visit Argonauts with both teams looking for first wins

McLeod-Bethel-Thompson

Toronto Argonauts quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson scrambles from Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Lorenzo Mauldin IV during first half CFL football game. (Peter Power/CP)

TORONTO — He’s had roughly two days to prepare, but that’s more than enough for McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson makes his first start of the season Saturday night when Toronto (0-2) hosts the B.C. Lions (0-3) at BMO Field. The Argos are coming off a 32-7 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Monday, a game that saw starter James Franklin suffer hamstring injury that’s landed him on the six-game injured list.

Bethel-Thompson has appeared in both of Toronto’s games this season, completing 12-of-22 passes for 125 yards with a touchdown and interception. He was 3-of-6 passing for 26 yards versus Saskatchewan following Franklin’s injury.

Despite the tight timelines, Bethel-Thompson is raring to go.

"I’m very prepared," he said Friday. "I prepare every week like I’m the starter, that’s the job of a backup and I’ve been doing this for a little bit now.

"I was prepared last week and I was prepared two weeks ago. Now, it’s just a few more reps Saturday, a little bit more time to see how prepared I am."

Toronto has been outscored by a whopping 96-21 margin in its two losses. Offensively, the Argos are last in the CFL in scoring, net offence (300.5 yards per game) and second-last in sacks allowed (eight) and turnovers made (six).

"I’ve rarely, if ever, got beat that badly," Bethel-Thompson said of Toronto’s early struggles. "But those scores were not indicative of how far away we are, we’re a lot closer than people think.

"Football is such an ebb-and-flow game … feast or famine in a lot of ways. It’s such a big field and once you kind of pry open those inches, then it becomes yards and then big plays. As bad as the scores were, we were really close, a couple of plays here or there early in the game and (then) it’s a different story."

The six-foot-four, 230-pound Bethel-Thompson started eight games last season for Toronto. The Argos won Bethel-Thompson’s opening two starts –including a 24-23 decision over B.C. on Aug. 18, 2018 — before dropping the next six, after which he was replaced by Franklin as the starter.

Bethel-Thompson was 1-1 versus B.C. last season. He threw four interceptions in a 26-23 Lions victory Oct. 6.

"One of his best attributes as a quarterback is his level of anticipation," Argos head coach Corey Chamblin said of his starter. "He has played in enough of those systems, especially the West Coast system, where the ball needs to be out and he does a good job of getting the ball out.

"He just has to make sure he plays with an even-keel mindset. He can become fiery at times but that’s also a good quality because I think those guys will rally around him and get going."

It’s been a tough start for Chamblin, who’s also Toronto’s defensive co-ordinator. The Argos’ defence is ranked last in points allowed and remains the only unit yet to register a sack.

But like Bethel-Thompson, Chamblin remains undeterred.

"This is a part of it, adversity reveals character and who you are right now," he said. "If their spirits are broken after this then they’re not tough.

"I still see guys coming to work, I still see guys pushing to get this thing turned around. We’re headed in a winning direction and sooner or later I know we’re going to that victory."

Much was expected of the Lions this season after the hiring of head coach DeVone Claybrooks and free-agent signing of veteran quarterback Mike Reilly. But B.C. has struggled mounting any consistency thus far and enters action this week having surrendered a league-high 10 sacks.

B.C. seemed poised to register its first win last week, taking a 22-10 lead into the fourth quarter against Calgary. But the defending Grey Cup champions rallied for the stunning 36-32 victory.

"As sucky as it sounds, you’ve definitely got to learn from those experiences," said Claybrooks, who was Calgary’s defensive co-ordinator for three seasons before joining the Lions. "I really feel bad for my guys because they’re working hard and putting in the time and they’re believing.

"They’re still fighting every day and to come up that short is a tough pill to swallow for them."

Claybrooks said Bethel-Thompson brings a different element to Toronto’s offence than Franklin.

"Franklin’s a little bit more mobile while Bethel-Thompson is a good pocket passer, he sees it," Claybrooks said. "So you really got to play them straight up because they can both make any throw.

"We understand who the quarterback is but the system’s going to be the system. Jacques (Argos offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine) trusts and believes in the system. The plays are going to be the same, the reads are going to be the same so it’s really about understanding the concept, where they like to read and go with the ball."

Bethel-Thompson said B.C.’s defence presents many challenges.

"They’ve got the personnel, they’ve got the co-ordinator behind it," he said. "They have the scheme and know what it takes to win in the CFL and compete.

"It’s just executing, completing the passes, keeping the chains moving and keeping them on the field and hopefully wearing them out."

B.C. LIONS (0-3) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (0-2),

At BMO Field on Saturday night.

RIVAL COACHES: It’s been a rough start for the head coaches. Claybrooks is 0-3 in his first CFL head-coaching tenure after a successful run as Calgary’s defensive co-ordinator. Chamblin is 0-2 in his first season with Toronto but won a Grey Cup with Saskatchewan as the head coach in 2013.

REILLY MILESTONE: Reilly will become the 26th player in CFL history to start 100 regular-season games at quarterback since 1950. Reilly sports a 54-45 career record but is just 3-6 versus Toronto.

BROTHERLY LOVE: Twins Jordan and Justin Herdman-Reed will be on opposite ends of the field. Jordan is a linebacker with the Lions while Justin is a linebacker with the Argos. The two were teammates at Simon Fraser before being drafted by their respective teams in 2017.

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