When William Stanback cracked the Montreal Alouettes lineup as a rookie in 2018, it was pretty obvious that he’d be sticking around for a while.
Even though he didn’t see many reps on offence, Stanback made an impression on special teams as a returner and gunner. As the season wore on, his role with the team continued to grow. Those who didn’t recognize his potential last year must have had quite the awakening on Thursday night.
Not only did the Alouettes win their home opener against the top team in the East, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Montreal also got an incredible 203-yard rushing performance from their feature tailback. He managed to do some damage between the tackles and also bounced it outside when needed.
If you’ve been reading my post-game analysis on 3DownNation, you’ve probably noticed how often I’ve mentioned the need for the Als to get Stanback the ball. Head coach and offensive coordinator Khari Jones finally did that and it paid off in a big way.
Yes, it’s only one win but consider that the Als were in it until the very end in Week 1 against Edmonton, and you quickly realize that this team could be 2-1 heading into a Week 5 matchup against the 2-1 Ottawa Redblacks.
It was refreshing to see and hear the hope from the local fans since the victory. As much as it’s a Montreal Canadiens town, there’s no denying that the Als are part of Montreal’s fabric as a city. All the people need is some entertaining football and they’ll support the organization.
How do you become entertaining? By winning! How do you win games? With great players. And that’s exactly what the Als have in Stanback.
Nobody can tell me that people in this city don’t care about the #Alouettes and the CFL. Fans want to see a winning product and they want to be entertained which is totally normal. That was really fun last night. Gotta build on it
— Joey Alfieri (@joeyalfieri) July 5, 2019
The Alouettes scored a 36-29 win over the Ticats on Thursday night, so I’ll give you my 36 observations from the game.
1- Stanback was unstoppable. His 203 rushing yards were the most by an Alouettes running back since Mike Pringle ran for 234 yards in 1998. It’s also the fifth highest rushing total for a player in a single game in franchise history. George Dixon ran for 235 yards in 1963, Pringle’s 234 ranks second, Ike Brown rushed for 213 in 1972 and David Green had 212 in 1979.
2- This was the first year I got to vote on TSN’s Top 50 Players list. I had Stanback as the 22nd best player in the league, but he still didn’t make the overall top 50 list. I don’t blame the national media for not giving the Als much attention last year, but I have a feeling he’ll be on everyone’s list in 2020.
3- It’s all positive with Stanback after Thursday’s win, but we have to talk about the fumbles. He has to do a better job of holding on to the ball. He’s fumbled at least once in each of the first three games. He can’t keep doing that.
4- Fun fact: Stanback had one more rushing yard than quarterback Vernon Adams had through the air. That’s something.
5- Stanback was the story after the game, but it was all about Luc Brodeur-Jourdain leading up to the game. The veteran offensive lineman played in his final game and he was really emotional after it was all said and done. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever come across in professional football and I wish him nothing but the best.
6- The plan was for Brodeur-Jourdain to play centre on the opening drive of the game before he’d go back to being the extra lineman. Well, the Als marched up the field on that drive but they had to settle for a short field goal. I wondered whether or not they’d keep him in the game as a starter, but they decided to go in a different direction. Still, it had to feel good for him to be part of such a productive drive.
7- His experience as an extra lineman was short lived, as he was forced back into the starting lineup when Sean Jamieson suffered a lower-body injury in the second half. You never want to see someone get hurt, but it was special to see Brodeur-Jourdain get back in there.
8- After the game, I jokingly mentioned to Brodeur-Jourdain that he should postpone the retirement because of the injury to Jamieson. His answer surprised me a little bit.
“If the team needs me I’ll be there,” said the 36-year-old. “It’s not my call. I’ll help the team as much as I can for the rest of my life.”
That sure sounds like someone who would be open to staying in the lineup if the team decided they needed him to suit up. I still can’t see that happening though. The Als have a few young offensively linemen that they want to bring along.
9- Most Als fans will know this story about him but CFL fans outside the city may not have heard it, so I’ll share it again. Back in 2015, Brodeur-Jourdain’s wife gave birth to their son on a game day. The Alouettes were taking on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Percival Molson Stadium and it looked like they’d be without their starting centre. But once his wife gave birth in the morning, she told him that he should take off for the stadium for the game. Brodeur-Jourdain called Jim Popp right away and told him he was on his way. He cut it pretty close, but he ended up playing in that game. He also hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, so he scarfed down a couple of hot dogs pre-game. That’s an “only in the CFL” moment if I’ve ever seen one.
10- I also remember talking to him on the field before a game a few years ago. His contract was expiring at the end of that season, and I remember telling him that he’d be able to break the bank. Again, his answer surprised me. He went on to explain that he wasn’t the type of guy to “break the bank”. He told me that the most important thing was being in an environment that makes you happy. The University of Laval product never left the organization because in the end, he bleeds red, white and blue. This team could use more players like that. Hopefully they’ll keep him around in some other capacity.
11- The offensive line is starting to get a little banged up. If Jamieson can’t play next week, it’ll be interesting to see if Spencer Wilson will be available. Wilson was on the one-game injured list for Thursday’s tilt.
12- Adams wasn’t spectacular in this game, but he didn’t have to be. Even though he had an up-and-down performance, he managed the game well and didn’t turn the ball over. I still think he’s better suited as a backup quarterback but it’s encouraging to see him win a football game.
13- Rookie receiver Quan Bray made the first start of his CFL career on Friday night. With DeVier Posey out of the lineup, the Als desperately needed speed and he was able to provide them with that. Even if Posey would’ve played, I still think Bray would’ve started over Geno Lewis.
14- Bray caught the first pass of the game and he led the team in targets with 11. His longest play was 16 yards, but he drew a pass interference call in the end zone which led to a touchdown. The 26-year-old had eight catches for 54 yards when it was all said and done. Two of those grabs were second down conversions, too. He’s gotta stay in the lineup.
15- On Monday, I hosted the “Als this Week” radio show on TSN 690 Montreal with Als receiver B.J. Cunningham. Heading into Thursday’s game, Cunningham’s longest play was 27 yards. On the show, I predicted that Cunningham would smash that number. You’re welcome, B.J.
BIG PLAY ALERT
— CFL (@CFL) July 5, 2019
16- I felt terrible for Ticats running back Sean Thomas-Erlington, who exited the game with a lower-body injury in the first quarter. His quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, didn’t put him in the best spot and Als cornerback Tommie Campbell delivered a low hit that knocked the University of Montreal product out of the game. I know it’s part of the game, but Thomas-Erlington was putting together a terrific season. To get hurt in front of friends and family in your home province just adds insult to injury.
17- How does a quarterback pass for 821 yards in back-to-back games against the Als and still look bad? I have no idea. Ask Masoli. He passed for big chunks of yardage against the Als defence, but his decision-making was suspect.
18- With 3:39 to go in the first quarter, Ticats receiver Jaelon Acklin caught a pass but was stripped of the ball after being gang-tackled. The referees blew the whistle as the ball came out of Acklin’s hands, so they decided the play was dead even though Als linebacker Patrick Levels came up with the ball. While I was standing on the sideline, I noticed that Khari Jones didn’t have the challenge flag in his possession. I don’t know if they would’ve challenged it either way, but if they wanted to challenge it they wouldn’t have been able to because the flag wasn’t around. It was quickly brought to him by a team staffer but it was too late. That can’t happen again… #details.
19- On a positive note though, how about that drive that gave the Alouettes the lead late in the third quarter? They started deep in their own territory but managed to march 105 yards up the field in 4:48. They got big plays from Stanback and Cunningham on that drive. We haven’t seen them do that much over the last few years.
20- I have to give the Als offensive line so much credit. They were manhandled in the loss to Hamilton last week, but they bounced back with a huge performance. As great as Stanback was, the big boys up front deserve a lot of credit for opening up some quality running lanes for him.
21- Alright, let’s start talking about the defence. It took them almost 11 full quarters but the Als finally got their first quarterback sack of the year thanks to Bo Banner and Tommie Campbell. No team in CFL history has ever opened the season with zero sacks in three games.
22- They still didn’t get enough pressure on Masoli in this game. Defensive coordinator Bob Slowik has to find a way to put some heat on the opposing quarterback or else this defence will keep getting gashed for big yardage.
23- Slowik’s defence had their best quarter of the season in the third quarter. They gave up absolutely nothing to the Hamilton offence. That’s a positive they need to build on heading into next Saturday’s game against Ottawa.
24- Linebacker Glenn Love came up with a huge interception in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Als, Love left the game with a lower-body injury after he tried to tackle Brandon Banks in the fourth quarter. Not only was he starting at WILL linebacker, he was also a valuable contributor on special teams. An important loss.
25- I spoke to Love on the field at halftime and he mentioned that this defence still gives up too many big plays. There were too many busts in coverage and too many mental mistakes. They need to clean that up if they’re going to challenge for a playoff spot in the East this year.
26- I thought Levels had a tough night in that SAM linebacker spot. He missed some assignments in coverage and he picked up a couple of illegal contact penalties in the fourth quarter. He’s a solid young player in the league though, so I’m not too worried about him. He may just be getting used to playing a new position (he played in the secondary with the Stampeders).
27- John Bowman, who is turning into the ageless wonder, registered one quarterback sack and he was able to draw two holding penalties in this game. He’s still got it.
28- Brandon Banks had 182 yards of total offence which is impressive. It still felt like he was left frustrated on several occasions. He didn’t come up with any of those home run plays.
29- It’s time to break down the specials teams for Montreal. For the most part, I thought Stefan Logan and Ryder Stone did a nice job in the return game. The Als had some good field position, especially in the first half.
30- Boris Bede had another roller coaster of a game. Hamilton managed to partially block a punt because Bede bobbled the ball in his hands before kicking it. But Bede hit his field goals and he was able to pin Hamilton deep late in the fourth quarter.
31- The addition of Tyler Crapigna earlier in the week was very telling. Crapigna doesn’t punt, so the Als would have to add a punter if ever they wanted to make a change at kicker. Could they go with two Canadians instead of one international in the near future? Let’s see.
32- The Hamilton onside kick late in the game was a complete disaster for the Als. They also nearly got caught napping on an onside kick during their loss in Hamilton. Special teams coordinator Micky Donovan has to get this fixed. It was embarrassing to watch.
33- Posey was trying to get some of the guys in the right position prior to the onside kick, but it was too late for them to get set up. It was obvious that several players had no clue where they were supposed to be on the field.
34- Interestingly enough, the Ticats had two kickers on the field during their onside kick. Lirim Harjulahu kicked it but Gabriel Amavizca was used as a decoy, so the Als had no clue if the kick was going to the right or left. Ticats special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold is very creative.
35- The good news is that they were able to keep the Ticats returners in check for the most part. Kick coverage was an issue in Hamilton during Week 3.
36- Molson Stadium was fun again. It had been so long since there was genuine excitement in the building. It’s also nice to see a lot more positive talk surrounding the Als and their fans on social media. They need to find a way to build some momentum.