Could one write a better script than what unfolded at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday night?
The Montreal Alouettes, a team with a new owner, a new head coach, a new starting quarterback, and a 6-7 record just two months ago, won their eighth consecutive game to win the Grey Cup for the first time in 13 years.
Ste-Catherine Street will finally have a new parade. Here are my thoughts about the game.
Cody Fajardo delivers when it matters most
Unlike many critics who have been hard on Montreal’s offence, I saw the unit from another perspective. Cody Fajardo never had to win games this season given the play of the club’s defence, especially late in the year. Instead, his goal was simply not to make life difficult for Noel Thorpe’s unit.
With two minutes to play on Sunday, Fajardo suddenly needed to step up. He needed to win the game, and he delivered. Big time.
The Als needed 83 yards in a little under two minutes. Fajardo faced adversity, taking a sack and losing eight yards. He stepped up with an improvised run to gain 13 yards and then found Cole Spieker for a big gain on third down.
Fajardo capped the drive with a clinical pass to Tyson Philpot to clinch the championship for Montreal. It was thrown against Demerio Houston, arguably Winnipeg’s best defensive back.
The veteran quarterback was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and he deserved the honour. He finished the game with 291 yards passing, three touchdown passes, and one interception.
There are similarities between the game-winning drive and Fajardo’s life over the last year. He and Maas were chased out of Saskatchewan and it seemed like their respective careers were in jeopardy. They both came back this year and, against all adversity, they believed. It paid off in the most important game of the season.
The playcalling, the offensive line and the receivers
Jason Maas, who I sometimes criticized for his play-calling close to the end zone this season, delivered a good game plan against one of the best defences in the CFL. He took what Winnipeg gave him and exploited the exterior short zones perfectly.
If Maas could take his game plan to the next level, it was because of the protection. The offensive linemen played their best game of the year, even considering the two consecutive failures at the goal line at the end of the first half. Unlike the previous contests, they gave Fajardo lots of time to work with.
The receivers also deserve credit for splitting the zones quickly. Tyler Snead, Cole Spieker, Tyson Philpot, and Austin Mack led the charge and caught well-contested balls. They all have less than two years of CFL experience, but they looked like veterans. Mack was especially good as he led the way with six catches for 103 yards and one touchdown.
Defensive showdown led by Kabion Ento
Montreal’s defensive performance wasn’t as memorable as the one from the East Final, but against a team like Winnipeg, the unit gave Montreal a chance to win it.
Kabion Ento played his best game of the season as he recorded one tackle, one interception, one forced fumble, and two pass knockdowns. It should be noted that the pick and one of the knockdowns occurred in the end zone, preventing scores.
With the Als up by four points in the middle of the fourth quarter, the defence couldn’t stop the Blue Bombers. However, on the following drive, the unit forced Winnipeg to a two-and-out, giving the offence the final two minutes to secure the win.
Shaky special teams
Had the Alouettes lost the Grey Cup, much of the blame would have gone towards the special teams. Joesph Zema wasn’t himself as he shanked two punts that resulted in penalties, which gave the Blue Bombers extra yards they didn’t need.
James Letcher Jr., who has been outstanding since he was inserted in the lineup, fumbled the ball and gave the Blue Bombers extra momentum. Winnipeg made him pay a couple of minutes later, converting the turnover into a touchdown.
Letcher Jr. eventually got injured and was replaced by Tyson Philpot, who made a nice 30-yard punt return to set up Austin Mack’s fourth-quarter touchdown.
I disagree with anyone who suggests that the CFL’s officiating, either on the field or from the command centre, favours teams from the west.
With that being said, the big decisions in the Grey Cup didn’t go Montreal’s way. Mustafa Johnson shouldn’t have been penalized for his tackle on Zach Collaros, and I still believe Malik Clements should have been called for no yards on the play that saw James Letcher Jr. fumble a punt return.
However, at the end of the day, the Als were able to stay in the game. They executed much better in the second half and it probably helped that more calls started to go their way.
I finish my last article of the season with a feeling of gratitude. It was my first as an Alouettes analyst, and I got to cover the team until the final game. I watched the game from the stands, and the atmosphere was great all night.
As the son of an immigrant, I fell in love with CFL football when I was nine years old watching the Grey Cup for the first time. I have never looked back since. On Sunday night, we once again had a great show, regardless of the result. The final three drives each ended in leading-change touchdowns. What more could one want?
Speaking of a great show, Green Day delivered an excellent one. Hamilton was a great host, too. I had the chance to meet great CFL fans from everywhere across Canada and their passion was palpable.
I hope Sunday’s win will create a great atmosphere for the years to come in Montreal. With the entertainment value of CFL football, the Als deserve a packed stadium for every game.
Montreal is a hard market. It takes a winner to create passion and excitement.
The Grey Cup parade will be remembered, the city and the province will answer the bell.