Alouettes dominate the Redblacks in sold-out home opener (& seven other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Montreal Alouettes

The Montreal Alouettes were finally back home to raise their 2023 Grey Cup banner on Thursday night in front of the first sold-out Percival-Molson stadium since 2016.

After two wins in Winnipeg and Edmonton, they continued to show why they are considered the best team in the CFL with a dominant performance against the Ottawa Redblacks.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

An explosive start

Jason Maas said it all week: he didn’t want his team to get too emotional after the pre-game ceremony and risk a slow start. His players understood that message as they played complementary football to take a commanding lead.

For a second straight week, the offence scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game. The defence followed with an interception on Ottawa’s first offensive play. Nafees Lyon had tight coverage on Jaelon Acklin, which forced the ball to be tipped up for Tyrice Beverette.

The offence managed a short field to score a second touchdown. After five minutes, the visitors were already trailing by two possessions.

The Canadian power combo

Even before the season started, it was clear that Tyson Philpot and Kaion Julien-Grant would be the leaders of the receiving corps in 2024. On Thursday night, they delivered once again.

Philpot caught seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. He has taken another step this year, playing with high confidence since his game-winner in the Grey Cup. His speed and quickness are a problem for defences and they don’t have an answer this season.

When asked about the evolution of Philpot’s play, Maas told the media that his offseason was incredible and that he made the necessary sacrifices. The Delta, B.C. native stayed in Montreal this past winter to train and changed his approach. So far, it’s paying off, as he leads the CFL in receiving with 317 yards.

Julien-Grant had to wait a long time to finally have his opportunity last year. He had some excellent performances but was slowed down by injuries, including a season-ending one against Ottawa — ironically. His turn to shine has finally come and finished the night with 139 yards on nine catches.

“It’s a great feeling,” he told 3DownNation. “I waited for my turn, but I knew it would come. I always prepared like it was going to be my turn.”

An elite performance from Fajardo

Cody Fajardo played an important role in the dominant victory. Unlike other contests where he’s been accused of only managing the game, he led the way for his team on Thursday with a couple of huge plays passing and running the football.

He finished the night 28-of-35 for 363 yards and three touchdown passes. On the ground, he added 39 yards and a major.

In addition to protecting the ball, Fajardo directed long drives with a good mix of short and long plays. He showed chemistry with his receivers, especially with Philpot and Julien-Grant. A lot of credit goes to the offensive line that gave him time to throw the ball. For a second straight game, the unit didn’t allow a sack.

His running game also helped him to keep some drives alive. He was locked in and ran with purpose. Fajardo must be careful to avoid injuries, but if he does, he will be a dangerous threat this season.

A great story

Reggie White Jr. had to wait 619 days between CFL games. He tore three ligaments in his right knee in October 2022, was out for a year and dealt with another injury in training camp this year.

The American receiver certainly didn’t miss in his return, as he caught four passes for 61 yards and two touchdowns. He showed his ability to catch balls in tight coverage, which he was doing well two years ago.

Everyone, including his teammates and coaches, was excited for White. He worked hard to get back to the CFL standard. Following his progress over the next couple of games will be interesting.

Another dominating performance

At this point, it is not a surprise that the defence can dominate opponents. However, Noel Thorpe’s unit keeps pushing its limits. On Thursday night, Ottawa’s offence paid the price.

Three turnovers were created in the first half, with Tyrice Beverette involved in each one. After his interception, he forced a fumble and recovered one later in the half. His play was a good representation of how the defence keeps performing. Every week, it seems a different player is shining, and this week, it was Beverette’s turn.

“Tonight, I felt that my number was called. My mom was in the stands, which gave me a little bit of a boost as well. Also, we got the 13th man; it was special,” he said after the game.

As a unit, the defence recorded four turnovers and three sacks. They allowed only one point in the first half, as the Als were leading by 29 at the break.

Finally a packed stadium

Alouettes fans had to go through a lot of tough years. As losses piled up, the stadium became increasingly empty. On Thursday night, Montreal officially turned the page on its painful years with the first sellout crowd since 2016.

23,035 fans gathered to watch the Als score their highest number of points in eleven years. It was loud all night — the infamous air horns were in full force) — and everybody left with a smile.

After the game, Maas told the media that he wanted to make Montreal and the province of Quebec proud of their team in 2024. Not only did his team’s performance do that, but it convinced many fans to come back. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more sold-out games this season.

What’s next?

The Alouettes will travel to Toronto on Friday, June 28 to take on the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field. It will be their first meeting since the East Final last year.

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.