The Alouettes were looking to clinch the playoffs for a fourth straight season and they got the job done with a signature defence performance against Ottawa, a 32-15 win representative of the team’s success this year.
In fact, if Montreal wants to shock the league and get to the Grey Cup, that’s exactly the recipe they will need to use.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
Last week against Calgary, the defence gave the Als a chance to win the game, but Saturday, they won it by themselves.
Overall, they produced two touchdowns — one pick-six and one fumble returned for a major — had five quarterback sacks, and were in Dustin Crum’s head all afternoon. They never allowed Ottawa to take off offensively and were in control of the line of scrimmage. Running back Devonte Williams, who had an outstanding performance last week against Saskatchewan, was limited to just 25 yards.
Crum threw for 247 yards but was intercepted twice in the red zone. Even though Ottawa had long drive on those occasions, they ended without any points allowed. After three quarters, the Redblacks had yet to score a single point.
Tyrice Beverette & Reggie Stubblefield: dangerous duo
Around this time last year, Alouettes’ fans discovered the effectiveness of linebacker Tyrice Beverette, who had a crucial role in clinching a playoff spot and winning the East Semi-Final. He’s continued his excellent play this season but has once again taken his game to another level at the right time of year. He was everywhere Saturday, collecting two sacks and six defensive tackles.
Released before the beginning of the season, defensive back Reggie Stubblefield was another player on a mission. He had seven tackles, two sacks and an interception in the first quarter. He was given a second chance, and it will be hard to push him outside of the lineup come playoff time.
The old and the new
Marc-Antoine Dequoy has been a key player in the Als’ defence over the last two seasons. He has seen a lot in that time and his play is constantly getting better. Saturday afternoon, he jumped in front of Bralon Addison to intercept Dustin Crum. He then brought back the ball all the way to the house for a 108-yard return.
Shawn Lemon and Darnell Sankey are two acquisitions that general manager Danny Maciocia made in-season, and both have already paid dividends for the Als. Sankey and Avery Williams are a terrific pair of linebackers. Both can track down running backs and receivers to get tackles.
Lemon continues to make big plays at defensive end, returning a fumble to add six points for the visitors. He couldn’t get to the 100-sacks mark but will get another chance next week as Ottawa will travel to Montreal for a rematch.
Big start for the offence
As mentioned above, the Als’ defence almost won the game by itself, but the offence got things started on the right foot. The first series was impressive, as the Als, for one of the first times this season, mixed the run game with the passing game on a long drive. William Stanback capped it off with a long run for the touchdown.
The second drive was also positive, as Jason Maas got creative with a play that will be discussed later.
From there, the Als moved the ball effectively enough. It wasn’t flashy, but Fajardo avoided the turnovers and managed the game. After going silent for a couple of drives, the Alouettes’ offence scored when it mattered and gave David Cote a chance to add multiple field goals. However, the kicker had a rough night, missing three of his four attempts. Had the game been closer, it would have been an element of discussion next week.
James Letcher Jr. sends a message
With Chandler Worthy out for the foreseeable future, James Letcher Jr. finally got a chance to show what he could do and didn’t disappoint. His explosiveness and vision helped him to give the Als good field position throughout and he combined for a total of 174 yards on punt and kickoff returns.
With his performance, he sent a message to the league and his coaches. He is ready for some game time and proved he can be dangerous.
However, like all the good returners in the Canadian Football League, he needs to show consistency and will be given this chance until the end of the season. He needs to seize it.
Two weird plays
Now, let’s get to the weird plays that occurred in his game. The first was a genius move by the Als coaching staff and running back Jeshrun Antwi. The latter successfully executed an “onside” punt by kicking the ball before the line of scrimmage and jumping to recover it. By the CFL rules, this gave the team a fresh set of downs.
I have criticized Jason Maas over playcalling on some occasions this season. However, I have to tip my hat to this one, which was brilliantly drawn up. My only question is, why use that play now and not in a playoff game? Other teams will now have the time to adjust.
The second crazy play happened after a missed field goal. While on the ground, Joseph Zema kicked the ball out of the returner’s reach, and Regis Cibasu caught the loose ball. It was a fantastic awareness by the kicker, who prevented a possible touchdown and gave the offence an extra possession.
The Alouettes have proven to be better than the lower-tier teams in the CFL but have yet to perform against top-tier teams. They will only have a chance to do that in the East Final, if they can get there.
The challenge now is to maintain a good level of play defensively while continuing to have a good pass/run balance on offence. If they can achieve that, they’ll have a chance against Winnipeg, Toronto and B.C.
The Alouettes will face the Ottawa Redblacks for a second straight week next Monday, on Thanksgiving Day, at 1 p.m. EDT. An Als win combined with a Hamilton loss would give Montreal home-field advantage for the East Semi-Final.