To paraphrase Marshall Mathers a.k.a. Eminem, will the real CFL Eastern division winner of 2014 please stand up?
The regular season will come to its end this weekend as the Montreal Alouettes battle the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday afternoon in the Steel City and the stakes cannot be higher. Montreal has already punched their ticket to the playoffs and now they are seeking that elusive first-round bye.
Hamilton is wanting to join the Als as the only other Eastern team in this year’s playoffs. And even then, the Toronto Argonauts STILL have a slight chance of inserting themselves into the playoff picture.
Simply put, the real pressure is on Hamilton. They need to beat the Alouettes by at least 8 points in order to clinch the East. A victory of less than 7 points means second place for the Ti-Cats. However, if Toronto can beat the Ottawa RedBlacks tonight without Ricky Ray behind centre, then Hamilton would be on the outside looking in should the Tabbies lose to Montreal outright at Tim Hortons Field.
No matter what happens, the Alouettes will host a playoff game at Percival Molson Stadium. It will simply come down to which Southern Ontario-based football team will join them in the CFL’s second season. By the time you wake up on Sunday morning, the playoff picture will be settled once and for all.
So what will Montreal have to do in order to score a decisive victory and hand the Tiger-Cats their first defeat at the newly refurbished Tim Hortons Field? The biggest thing with both of these teams is their defense; both squads have elite defenders and are very evenly matched. Which means that offense and special teams will be the real story of the day tomorrow.
Hamilton QB Zach Collaros has come a long way from the head injury that knocked him out of the lineup earlier this season and his play of late is validating Head Coach/GM Kent Austin’s decision to get rid of Henry Burris last winter and make Collaros the centerpiece of the Tiger-Cats offense.
But Alouettes QB Jonathan Crompton has faced every challenge thrown his way and conquered them all. The young gunslinger from Asheville has put this Montreal team on his back and brought them from a 1-7 start to this critical point of the season. I’ve been saying how good he has been in recent weeks, but good is not good enough.
Again, the talent is there and I do believe in his abilities as should the rest of Alouettes Nation. But JC has to be better than good not only to beat the Ti-Cats on Saturday, but to completely erase from everyone’s minds the horrendous start of the season for Montreal.
Only the most foolhardy Alouettes fans will expect Crompton to be the second coming of Anthony Calvillo. That’s not gonna happen; he’s just not the same style of QB and asking him to be AC 2.0 is putting way too much on this youngster. But put your faith in this former University of Tennessee stud and he will lead this team to the promised land or die trying.
Crompton will have to stretch the field tomorrow afternoon and keep finding his targets like Duron Carter, S.J. Green and Brandon London for some highlight reel-style plays. And as much as possible, give Tyrell Sutton the ball and let him run roughshod on Hamilton’s front seven. Sutton chewed up a lot of yardage versus the Argos this past Sunday while Hamilton had a hard time containing Ottawa’s running game last Friday.
Crompton would be wise to use both Sutton’s legs and his own to move the yardsticks. Last week JC got away from the read option and stayed more in the pocket, which left a lot to be desired. Keeping the ball out of the air in Hamilton just may end up being the best way to hand the Tiger-Cats their tenth defeat of the season.
It’s easy for us as a fanbase to say to our boys, “Just go there, play your best and try not to get hurt.” But I say, why not silence every single critic that doubted this team? Why not walk into Tim Hortons Field and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this Montreal Alouettes team IS for real?
I remember every snide remark from earlier this season. Not just from the fair-weather fans but also the media who covers these Alouettes, with one scribe even saying and I quote, “They’ll be lucky to win 9 games this year!” There’s no denying that this certainly has been a rocky road to the top of the East. This Alouettes team has walked through a hellstorm in 2014 and have come out of it battered but certainly not beaten.
It took a lot of change and evolution to get to where this team is today. And I was pretty harsh on Coach Tom Higgins and how he addressed problems initially, but he and his staff have righted the ship and the sailing has gotten a lot smoother. This Alouettes team has passed every test it has faced so far; now all they have to do tomorrow is come out and claim what is rightfully theirs.
Whoever crosses over from the Western division to the East will surely not think facing this Montreal Alouettes team will be the cakewalk they initially thought it would be during the summer.
Tomorrow afternoon will be the first time that the Montreal Alouettes will visit the reborn Tim Hortons Field since renovations started on the former Ivor Wynne Stadium at the end of the 2012 season. There were several delays to its completion, which led to the Tiger-Cats starting the 2014 season at Ron Joyce Stadium on the campus of McMaster University.
But now this one of a kind facility is ready to be a beacon of light for football fans in the Steel City! Much like TD Place in Ottawa, I am looking forward to seeing this state-of-the-art facility in it’s completed form. With tomorrow’s game being sold out and many of you Alouettes fans in Montreal maybe not wanting to make the trip to see this newfangled stadia, be sure to check out La Station Des Sports for the official Alouettes viewing party!
As always, there will be prizes, cold beverages, great food and cheerleaders! Also, you’ll be cheering on your team with fellow Alouettes Steven Lumbala and Jermaine McElveen. Both of these fantastic fellas are ready to meet and greet you as Montreal battles to win the Eastern division. For more details, click here.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter for last minute news and game day tweets live from Tim Hortons Field. As always, enjoy the game tomorrow regardless of where you watch it.