Argonauts will drop season series with loss to Alouettes

The home-and-home series. It’s a chance to take what you learned about your rival last week and apply it this week, maybe develop a little bit of bad blood, for emotions to amp up.

And for the Toronto Argonauts, facing the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday — for the second time in a week — will also be a battle for first place.

That last part is what resonated with the Argos after their practice on Thursday.

“It’s huge. First place would be the cherry on the top,” said running back Brandon Whitaker, who rushed for 96 yards on 13 carries in last week’s 21-9 loss in Montreal. “It’s still early in the season. But it’s a game in the division. With how tight it is, everybody is a game away. We want to put ourselves ahead a little bit, and start to separate.”

Whitaker, from Edmond, Okla., pointed out that for many American-born players, the idea of a back-to-back against the same team is peculiar to the CFL when it comes to football, even if it’s common in other sports such as hockey. It rarely happens at the college level or in the NFL.

“I’m not a big fan of it,” said Whitaker, who played parts of six seasons in Montreal, “but it’s part of our league. It’s what makes our league different. It’s one of those things. I’ve never gotten used to it.

“I guess the good thing about it is there’s not much that’s going to change, so you don’t have to do much more to prepare.”

Given the Argos lost last week, it could work in their favour.

“We’re sour after losing, and we get to have a chance at them very quickly,” said Argonauts linebacker Bear Woods, who was released by the Alouettes in the off-season.

It’s also a chance to even the season series at a game apiece, making their Sept. 23 meeting the tiebreaker, which could be crucial when it comes to the playoffs.

“They could sweep us, so this is a huge game divisionally with how the points work,” said Woods. “This team is filled with veteran guys. The way we played last week, we know we just have to make a few more plays to win the ball game.

“There’s nothing over there (in Montreal) where we feel outmatched, or that they have the upper hand on us. They’re a good football team and so are we. We just have to find a way to win.”

The Argos aren’t taking anyone lightly. They’ve lost three in a row to drop to 3-5, and see the 5-1 Calgary Stampeders looming in the distance after Saturday’s home game against the 3-4 Alouettes. So as much as this is a battle for first in the East, it’s also a chance to stanch the bleeding.

“It’s a home game against a divisional opponent,” said Argos head coach Marc Trestman. “There’s a lot at stake. We’ve got to play a lot better than we’ve played the last couple of weeks . . . to have success this week.”

Ricky Ray will be back at quarterback having missed the last game with a sore shoulder, and the running game has shown improvement.

“For any team, you want to be able to run the ball when you want to run it,” said Trestman. “We were able to do that in our last game. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it certainly gives us the chance to give the line and our pass protection a breather, and to have a sense that you control the line of scrimmage.”

The Argos are 2-3 at BMO Field this season and will play with the Canadian National Exhibition in full swing around the stadium. A ticket to the game includes entry into the Ex.

“It’s a great deal. Feels like a fan festival with a game on top,” said Woods. “Logistically for players, and parking, it can be a bit of a headache. But football is entertainment.”

And home field can be an advantage.

“It’s just a matter of taking advantage of the home-field advantage,” said Whitaker. “For us, it’s more being at home, doing your home routine, eating and massage. It’s a little bit of an advantage. It doesn’t mean you’ll win, but it does help out.”

– Toronto Star

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