It’s not about how you start; it’s about how you finish.
The Alouettes again showed that expression to be true, especially in the CFL. Against all odds, Montreal came back late Saturday night to beat the Ottawa Redblacks in one of the year’s most exciting games. Here are my thoughts on a crazy one.
The Start (ft. Evans’ mistakes)
When asked about Evans over the last couple of weeks, head coach Jason Maas has talked a lot about game management. That’s a mission quarterback Caleb Evans failed in the first half.
Looking back at the statistics, they weren’t a good representation of the game. The Als were moving the ball better than the numbers, distributing it to a number of receivers, but Evans made critical mistakes when it mattered the most. In the red zone, he threw a ball in double coverage that was intercepted and he fumbled. Ottawa took advantage of those errors and scored 14 points.
The End (ft. Evans’ heroics)
At halftime, people were already talking about inserting backup Davis Alexander or the injured Cody Fajardo to try and create a spark. But I liked Jason Maas’s decision to stick with Evans. You can’t throw away the game plan when the difference is only 14 points. What message would have been sent to the whole team had Alexander or Fajardo started the second half?
The trust paid off as Evans played his best football of the season after the break. He was poised in his pocket and found his rhythm in the last quarter, orchestrating one of the best comebacks in recent Als history with two key plays on third down. The first was a 51-yard throw to Hergy Mayala, who was left alone in the game’s final minute. Then, he showed his instincts on third-and-goal by escaping left for the game-winning touchdown run.
All told, Evans was 24-of-36 for 333 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions while rushing eight times for 49 yards and the walk-off winner. All of that was possible because Maas didn’t panic and put his faith in a young athlete to course correct.
I rarely talk about playcalling, but I didn’t like some of the strategies used during the first half.
The Redblacks were exposed deep last week against Toronto, offering up bushels of long catches. But the Alouettes didn’t test that aspect seriously until the beginning of the third quarter, excluding the desperate interception at the end of the first half. I know Evans is not the ideal quarterback to throw the deep ball, but you have to do your duty and test it.
Secondly, when the Alouettes were trailing 7-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, they built a long drive that led them to third-and-goal at the Ottawa two-yard line. Maas decided to kick a field goal but I would have liked a vote of confidence for the offence, which was playing their best football of the night to that point. Worst case scenario, the Redblacks would have taken over deep in their own zone and at that moment, Dustin Crum’s offence wasn’t in complete control.
However, my favourite strategy of the game came during that drive. The Als presented a diamond formation of receivers. It ended up being a screen pass to Stanback, who broke free. A well-schemed play that was also well-executed.
Defence Bent But Didn’t Break
Noel Thorpe’s defences over the years have been known for bending, but not breaking. However, the unit hasn’t even bent over the last few games as they played some extraordinary football.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night, but they answered the bell when it mattered the most. Yes, they were put in uncomfortable positions with the turnovers, but they allowed a lot of yards on the ground, like on a second-and-one sneak that Tyrrell Pigrome transformed into a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the defence allowed a long drive that Crum capped up with a touchdown.
At that point, I thought it was the breaking point. But Thorpe’s defence, led once again by Shawn Lemon, still had juice and allowed the Als’ offence to get two crucial possessions at the end of the game.
Speaking of the Lemonator, he had a significant impact on this game once again. In addition to his three tackles and a denied pass, he registered another critical sack toward the end of the game.
Tyler Snead and Austin Mack: Offensive Weapons
By now, we all know what Austin Mack can do, and he delivered once again. After exiting Thursday’s practice early, the first-year receiver didn’t seem bothered by anything, as he finished the night with 116 yards on nine catches. He has been rock solid since the beginning of the year.
Another receiver that is becoming a fan favourite is rookie Tyler Snead. He’s not the tallest nor the biggest weapon, but he is reliable. Saturday night, he scored two touchdowns and helped Evans out with second-down conversions more than once. He finished the night with 98 yards and all seven times he was targeted, he caught the ball.
CFL at its Best
There was a little bit of everything in this game: turnovers, big defensive and offensive plays, and a comeback for the ages.
The key moment of the game was a decision taken by Ottawa with 1:57 remaining on the clock. Instead of running on second down, Crum threw a pass that was almost picked off. That incompletion stopped the clock and allowed the Als to have a chance to take the lead late in the game.
The Alouettes will now face the Blue Bombers on the road Thursday night. The ride home will be positive, but the week of preparation will be short.