On a crisp autumn night where emotions ran extremely high and the theme was standing united in the face of adversity, the Montreal Alouettes did just that and forged ahead.
Notching a 23-17 win this past Friday over the Ottawa RedBlacks, the Alouettes maintained their hold on first place in the East and remain in control of their 2014 playoff destiny.
Remarkably, this Alouettes team now sits at 8-8 with two games left to go and remains the only team in the East that can potentially finish the season with a positive record.
A far, far cry from when this Alouettes team was in total disarray with a record of 1-7, fans and sportswriters alike treating this team like the proverbial red-headed stepchild. For those Alouettes fans who kept the faith and persevered through the trying times, this is indeed glorious. And truthfully, I believe that the best is yet to come.
For their part Ottawa also played a solid defensive game this past Friday but like in the two previous encounters versus the Alouettes, they were done in by a lack of discipline. Seeing the penalty flags fly like they did at TD Place brought back not so fond memories of the start of this season, when the refs would practically call a penalty on you for looking at them cross-eyed.
Had the RedBlacks kept themselves in check, both of Montreal’s touchdowns would have surely been prevented. But Tanner Marsh continues his streak of scoring a goal-line touchdown while Jonathan Crompton found S.J. Green for his lone TD pass of the evening. Add those to the eleven points off the talented foot of Sean Whyte and you have the makings of a complete Alouettes victory, their eighth of this season.
Both Henry Burris and Danny O’Brien split the signal-calling duties for the Redblacks this past Friday and both were able to hang a touchdown on the stingy Montreal defense. But both quarterbacks were also victims of turnovers just when drives were starting to come together for the RedBlacks. Give credit to Ottawa’s coaching staff as they have been able to stay with their opponents to the very end, providing them plenty of headaches along the way.
Ottawa’s defense is coached by ex-Alouettes linebackers coach Mark Nelson and his work truly speaks for itself. Crompton’s been drawing rave reviews and is certainly the quarterback that will be leading this Alouettes team for a while but in all three matches versus Ottawa, he’s looked VERY ordinary. I’ve been saying over and over that JC needs to step it up and I see the effort from him is there, but Nelson and the RedBlacks defense have really done their homework on the young gunslinger.
Montreal’s defense has been stellar these past few weeks but Ottawa really has it down pat. If the RedBlacks could have kept the flags in the refs’ pockets and been more creative with their offensive play-calling, their 2014 record would be better than a mere 2-14. Ottawa plays their final two games versus Hamilton & Toronto. With nothing left for the RedBlacks to lose, only the truly foolish would take this “expansion” team lightly.
There was a plethora of emotions this past Friday evening at TD Place, as the pre-game ceremonies paid tribute to the two soldiers that lost their lives in a senseless manner this past week. A moment of silence was held for both Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (stationed at St.Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC, former training camp home of the Alouettes) and Corporal Nathan Cirillo (stationed in Ottawa and guarding the National War Memorial near Parliament Hill).
And with the gracious lending from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of their gigantic Canadian flag to the RedBlacks organization, players from both football teams grabbed a part of the flag as it unfurled on the field and they all joined politicians, military personnel and the near 25,000 spectators at TD Place in the singing of O Canada.
Don’t forget, most of these players are American-born and their only tie to Canada is the CFL team that they play for. But they stood arm-in-arm with their fellow men and women, united in the belief that Canada is still a strong, proud country whose citizens will NEVER allow the actions of a few misguided individuals define who they are and what they believe in.
Whether you were there in person or watched it on TV and whether you sung along to O Canada in French or in English, you saw a nation come together like never before. You saw a nation that will pick themselves up after a tragedy and carry onward. You saw a nation that will grow stronger every single day regardless of whatever threats it may encounter.
Being a part of that moment in time this past Friday is something I will not soon forget. As a proud Canadian and as a football fan, I am thankful to both the Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa RedBlacks for helping this country begin the process of healing itself through the power of sport.
Incredibly, this past weekend did little to solve the playoff picture in the East. Despite being in first place at 8-8, the Alouettes still need to keep winning in order to qualify for the second season. They will get the opportunity to do that this coming Sunday at Percival Molson Stadium versus the Toronto Argonauts.
Both teams have won on the road against each other and the winner of this will take the season series. An Alouettes win will likely eliminate the Argos unless Ottawa can find a way to upset the Tiger-Cats at TD Place this Friday. There still remains several possible scenarios for all three Eastern teams that are still in playoff contention.
One thing that is certain, thanks to the BC Lions’ win this past weekend, is that a Western team will crossover to the East. So the pressure to win has been cranked up to another level for Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton. Only two of those teams will represent the Eastern division and one will be hosting the fourth-place Western team, which will be either the Lions or Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Since the crossover rule was instituted, no Western team has ever gone on to the Grey Cup as the “Eastern champion”, always losing in either the Eastern semi-final or final. But eventually that streak will end. After all the talk initially of the West being so much better than the East, will it be this year? Once the playoffs start, ANYTHING can happen.
Even a team that was 1-7 to start the season could go on to play for the Grey Cup! Hard to believe, but as this league is so fond of reminding us, it’s not how you start but how you finish. No lead is safe in the CFL!
I’ll be back on Friday for a preview of Sunday’s game. Don’t forget that the Alouettes will be wearing their new Signature Look uniforms for this game. It’s Fan Appreciation Day as well as the Purolator Tackle Hunger game so if you’re attending, please don’t forget to bring a non-perishable food item to donate for Montreal’s food banks.