With Vernon Adams Jr. not on the field, expectations were low for the upstart Alouettes but ultimately their game of inches with the B.C. Lions came down to a single yard.
Unwilling to risk giving Mike Reilly the ball back in a one-point game with a minute remaining, Khari Jones gambled and attempted the third-and-one sneak rather than kick the field goal to give his team the lead. Antonio Pipkin went under centre with the game on the line but the ball popped loose and a desperate DeVier Posey couldn’t stretch the recovered ball across the line to gain.
It was a fitting exclamation point to a back and forth game that started slow but built to a crescendo in the second half.
In a first half where offensive traction was hard to come by, a little veteran savvy went a long way. On the very first possession of the game, John Bowman silenced the Lions’ hopes of an early lead by taking control of left tackle Joel Figueroa by the wrist and knifing past for a drive-ending sack. It would not be the last time that the 14-year Alouette would make his presence felt.
Alouettes’ back-up quarterback Matthew Shiltz, replacing the suspended Adams, found former Lions’ receiver DeVier Posey twice on the next drive to set up a 16-yard Boris Bede field goal and put the underdog Als up three.
The Lions looked poised to answer on the ensuing possession after John White rattled off a 35-yard run behind a caravan of offensive lineman, but Bowman was back for more. With pressure in his face, Mike Reilly lofted an attempted pass to White before being tackled, only to have the grizzled defensive end bat it down and make an acrobatic interception. It would be the first pick of Bowman’s illustrious Hall of Fame career.
The turnover did little to spark the Alouettes offence, however, as nine-year man Shawn Lemon quickly took his turn in the spotlight. On second down, Lemon bent the edge around Tony Washington and stripped Shiltz of the football. The recovery by 11-year veteran Odell Willis set up a 36-yard Sergio Castillo field goal to tie the game.
Both Lemon and Willis added drive-ending sacks before the offences would strike again, as would Bowman.
It wasn’t until after the three-minute warning that things really got started.
B.C. capitalized on a Patrick Levels roughing the passer penalty with another Castillo field goal, then quickly forced a two-and-out thanks to the reach of Isaiah Guzylak-Messam. With just 25 seconds to work with, Reilly smartly found Bryan Burnham, then Duron Carter twice to march 33 yards and let Castillo hit his third field goal to enter the break up 9-3.
The lead wouldn’t last long, as Montreal came out swinging to start the second half. On the first play from scrimmage, Eugene Lewis slipped behind coverage and Shiltz found him for a 97-yard untouched run into the end zone.
After stifling the Lions attempt at a response, the Alouettes decided to do it on the ground for their next drive. William Stanback found a cutback lane for 24 yards before Shiltz rumbled to the goal line with a 29-yard QB draw. Pipkin would punch it in to put the visitors up by eight.
Montreal seemed in complete control of the game, but something was about to give for the team with only two wins at BC Place this millennium. Mike Reilly took control of the offence and began to drive the field.
A free play thanks to an Alouettes offside call resulted in a 30-yard shot to Lemar Durant. Then a Greg Reid pass interference moved the team into position for Reilly to find Burnham at the pylon. The Lions would fail on the two-point conversion, but the offence wouldn’t have to wait long for another chance to take the lead.
After the Alouettes stalled out thanks to a knockdown by David Menard, Reilly found time to target Durant long again, this time for 61 yards. A pass to Burnham got the ball inside the five, before White snuck in from four yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. A Chris Edwards’ diving interception three plays later put the Lions in scoring position once again, with Castillo being on target from 48-yards out.
Momentum would quickly swing back in the other direction. On a nine-play, 75-yard drive, Shiltz threw the ball just once and carried four times for 33 yards and the touchdown to take the wind out of B.C.’s sails. Posey bobbled the two-point try, leaving Montreal down two with 5:22 remaining.
For a moment, the Lions looked to take back control. Rookie Jamel Lyles returned the kickoff 36 yards and Reilly found both Burnham and Carter for first downs before the Lions were forced to attempt the field goal. Castillo’s luck ran out and Fabion Foote blocked the kick to set his team up for the game-winning drive with under two minutes remaining.
Stanback broke free for 33 yards on second down, then powered to the two-yard line with consecutive carries. It seemed as if the writing was on the wall for B.C. But third-stringer Pipkin was found lacking in the gravity of the moment and let the game slip through his arms.
The turnover on downs put the ball in the Lions’ hands and Reid’s second pass interference call of the game gave the Lions the lone first down they needed. Putting an end to a topsy-turvy second half with the Leos emerging victorious 25-23.
B.C. found themselves on top thanks to an efficient performance from their superstar quarterback Reilly, who completed 30-of-34 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown, missing only one throw in the entire second half. Both Burnham and Carter recorded seven receptions while Durant led the receivers with 107 yards.
The Alouettes did their damage on the ground, with Shiltz completing just 10 passes for 177 yards and a score. He contributed 62 yards and another touchdown on the ground. Stanback averaged 10.5 yards per carry on his way to 147 yards rushing.
The Lions’ third straight victory keeps them alive in the playoff race by a slim margin heading into a matchup against Toronto. Montreal falls further behind the East Division-leading Tiger-Cats with five games to play and little hope for a playoff bye.