Looking to turn the page on the first nine games of their season, the Montreal Alouettes start the second half of the year with a crucial divisional matchup.
The Alouettes host the Ottawa Redblacks at Percival Molson Stadium on Thursday. A victory for either team would see them climb one spot in the standings.
The Alouettes (3-6) are third in the East Division, just one point behind the Redblacks (3-6-1), who have won two games in a row. Ottawa is one point behind the inactive Toronto Argonauts, who play Monday.
“It’s the second half of the season now, so whatever happened (before) doesn’t matter,” Als running back Tyrell Sutton said at practice on Tuesday. “We just have to go out there and execute and put up these wins and secure a playoff spot.
“The last few years we’ve struggled out the gate a little bit but then we find a way to make that big push at the end. We’re in that situation right now.”
The Alouettes have lost two games in a row and four of their last five – many by very small margins. Five of Montreal’s six losses this season have been by one touchdown or less.
That’s because Jacques Chapdelaine’s men have made a bad habit of losing in the game’s final minutes this season.
Last week in Winnipeg, quarterback Darian Durant threw an interception in overtime that led to a game-winning field goal for the Blue Bombers.
Winnipeg also got the better of Montreal in Week 6, overcoming a 12-point deficit in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter to eke out a 41-40 victory.
In Week 5 against Ottawa, the last time these two teams met, the Alouettes were stopped on third-and-one at the eight-yard line with just over one minute left in the game. After the turnover on downs, the Redblacks held on for a 24-19 victory.
Durant, confident the Alouettes are a better team than their record suggests, blamed his side’s inconsistency for the mediocre results in the first half of the season.
“At times we show that we can beat anyone, we can play against anyone, we can score against anyone,” said Durant, who leads the league with 10 interceptions. “On the other hand, we shoot ourselves in the foot, I turn the ball over, we have mental breakdowns, you name it.
“If we can get some consistency going, I see us being one of the best teams in the league. If we can cut out the mistakes, I really feel like we can win every game we play.”
Despite Montreal’s troubles in the first half of the season, a weak East Division means a playoff spot is still up for grabs down the stretch.
All four teams in the East have a losing record and just two points separate first-place Toronto from third-place Montreal. Only the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats are unlikely to challenge for a playoff position.
“We control our destiny right now,” said Sutton, who missed last game with a minor knee injury. “At any point in time, the league can change. We saw it. We went from first place to third. It’s very competitive right now. We have to make sure to stay in the mix.”
Shutting down Ottawa’s Trevor Harris will be key for Montreal. The Redblacks quarterback leads the league in touchdowns (19) and passing yards (3,188).
For the Redblacks, winners of their last two games, a victory on Thursday would propel them into top spot in the East Division.
“Just because we’ve won two games doesn’t mean we’ve accomplished what we’ve wanted to accomplish,” Harris told the team’s website this week. “They (Alouettes) play physical football. There’s no secret how physical Montreal is. They’re a group that will let you know about it as well.
“We feel that if we execute our game plan, we’ll be just fine.”
Notes: Both Ottawa and Montreal have 16 turnovers this season. ? The Redblacks face the Alouettes again in two weeks, in Montreal. ? The Als released defensive tackle Ray Drew on Monday.