Quarterbacks Ray, Mitchell bring winning habits to Grey Cup game

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

OTTAWA — When Toronto Argonauts coach Marc Trestman looks at quarterback Ricky Ray he sees Anthony Calvillo.

Calvillo, the CFL’s all-time passing leader, was Trestman’s quarterback when he last coached in the league with the Montreal Alouettes from 2008 to 2012. When he returned from the NFL this season to coach the Argonauts he inherited another future hall of famer in Ray.

"It’s apples to apples with these guys — they’re the same guy," Trestman said when asked to compare the two this week. "Even the personalities are very similar.

"The emotional wiring is very similar. They’re even-keeled, intelligent guys. Hard-working. I’ve been saying the same forever because I said it about Anthony. But everything I said about Anthony is true about Ricky. They’re the same guy in work ethic, preparation, detail, structure. System quarterbacks who do it exactly the way you want to get it done."

Ray hopes to do one better than Calvillo by winning a fourth career Grey Cup title when he leads the Argonauts against Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday at TD Place.

The Stampeders, who posted two regular-season wins over Toronto in August, were the CFL’s top team at 13-4-1 and will be the favourites against the Argonauts, who led the East Division despite a 9-9 record.

The play of the quarterbacks will have much to do with which team comes out on top.

The 38-year-old Ray is 11 years older than Mitchell, but both are coming off excellent seasons.

Ray struggled with injuries the last two years, but seemed to find new life when quarterback guru Trestman was hired Feb. 28 and immediately named him the starter.

"Playing against Marc and his team in Montreal, they had really good teams," said Ray, who had a career year with 5,546 passing yards to reach the 60,000-yard milestone. "And playing under (former Argos coach) Scott Milanovich, who coached under Marc, and hearing the things he said about him, I was just excited to work with him."

Mitchell put up 4,700 passing yards, but didn’t need to pass as much because the Stampeders had clearly the better ground game — at least until Trestman made James Wilder Jr. the starting running back late in the season.

Calgary has an impressive array of weapons, with bruiser Jerome Messam or speedy Roy Finch carrying the ball and a cast of top receivers including Marquay McDaniel, Marken Michel, DaVaris Daniels and Kamar Jorden, not to mention Canadian Anthony Parker.

Mitchell smiled when asked to describe them.

"You know those movies where you walk in and they press a button and the wall turns and they have all those guns? That’s how it feels," he said. "I haven’t got to feel that every single week but it definitely feels like that now.

"We’ve got guys who are just playmakers. They have the ability to go out there and do it. I just have to be the facilitator. The point guard. Get my guys the ball and let them make a play."

Mitchell took over as Calgary’s starter in 2014 and won a Grey Cup in the same week that he was named the CFL’s outstanding player. He had the Stampeders back in the title game last season, but lost in an upset to the Ottawa Redblacks.

Now he’s back for the third time in four years.

He helped gut out a win in the West Division final last week over rival Edmonton and league passing leader Mike Reilly, who on Thursday night was named outstanding player ahead of Ray.

"There are six guys I can throw the ball to on any given play, seven if you count Dan," Mitchell joked about his pass last week to offensive lineman Dan Federkeil.

Ray has never won the outstanding player award despite several nominations, but he got Grey Cup rings in 2003 and 2005 with the Eskimos and another in 2012 at Calgary’s expense in his first year in Toronto.

The old pro gets plenty of respect from Mitchell.

"I have to know and understand that, no matter what happens, he won’t see anything he’s never seen before," said Mitchell. "I don’t care if his first three passes on Sunday night are picks, you’re going to get vintage Ricky Ray right after that.

"He’s won Grey Cups. He’s been in it for a long time. No matter if we get up by 21 or down by 14, I know that Ricky will be in the right mindset and I have to make sure that my guys stay in the right mindset. Just focus on the offence and putting up points every drive."

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