For the fans that wear red/blue/silver, it simply wasn’t meant to be this season.
In order to qualify for the playoffs, the Montreal Alouettes had to win today versus the Edmonton Eskimos, then hope that next week’s games also went according to plan. The Alouettes that took the field today were lead by a veteran quarterback who has vast experience in leading other teams through some tough stretches.
The hope was that this man would somehow find a way to extend a season that looked finished several weeks ago. That man damn near did it this afternoon. But sometimes the football gods are extremely cruel and just as easily as they can smile upon you, that generous smile turns to diabolical laughter.
The Alouettes heard that laughter loud and clear, as the Eskimos had destiny of their own in mind. Winning today’s game by a score of 40-22, Edmonton has sewn up the Western division and will now enjoy 20 days of rest while they wait to see whether the BC Lions or Calgary Stampeders will be their next obstacle towards a return to the Grey Cup game. Montreal now heads back home and will host the Saskatchewan Roughriders next Sunday in a game that will be played simply for pride.
There was an interesting twist to the game as it was revealed a couple of hours before kickoff that Alouettes Head Coach/GM Jim Popp was not going to be on the sidelines, suffering from vertigo. He did not make the trip to Edmonton and the Alouettes were led by defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe. This was the perfect chance for Thorpe to demonstrate that he was ready to assume a head coaching position in the Canadian Football League. If it’s not in Montreal, then perhaps elsewhere.
I’ve made it clear that my choice would be for Thorpe to assume the head coaching duties of this team starting next season. Even if by some miracle the Alouettes would have been able to shock the world and go all the way to the Grey Cup, I still would prefer that Popp goes back to solely being the best general manager in this league and let Thorpe run the sidelines in 2016 and beyond. A win today certainly would have helped solidify this position.
Thorpe didn’t look out of place calling the shots and he had the benefit of Kevin Glenn leading the Als under centre. The first half of this football game was as tight and gritty as I expected it to be, as both teams traded multiple scores back and forth. Montreal headed into the locker room at halftime leading 14-13 and was all set to come back out in the second half and keep the party going.
However, it didn’t quite work out that way. On their first possession of the second half, Glenn was picked off deep in his own end of the field and that’s pretty much where it all started to go downhill for the Birds of Prey. This game then turned into a cornucopia of ill-advised penalties and sloppy defensive play for Montreal, hardly the hallmark of the interim head coach’s style.
The game also took a very sharp turn south when a 3rd and 1 QB sneak by the Eskimos resulted in an injury to Michael Klassen. After the play was whistled dead, Klassen lay on the field and didn’t move. Immediately medical personnel from both teams rushed over to tend to the young Albertan and to further cause panic among Alouettes fans, an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter. As of this going viral, it’s still not known whether Michael suffered a neck or head injury, but he was taken to hospital and was undergoing medical tests. He was moving his extremities as he left, which is always a positive sign.
After a scary event like that, it’d be completely understandable if the Alouettes’ mind were no longer on the game, but rather their fallen teammate. I still remember back in 2012 during the Eastern Final when Marc-Olivier Brouillette was also carted off the field in similar fashion. It took the wind out of the sails of the Alouettes and their fans as concern for his well-being became a much greater matter of importance. It’s my hope as well of that of this team and it’s fanbase that Michael is all right and makes a complete recovery.
Edmonton managed some quick scores when played resumed and led by ten points with about 6 minutes left in the game. But Kevin Glenn and Tyrell Sutton, who had a monstrous game with 135 yards on the ground, put this team on their backs and successfully marched the Alouettes down the field, ending up at the Eskimos’ two yard line.
It was then that the Alouettes’ short-yard specialist Tanner Marsh was summoned in order to punch in another goal-line touchdown like he has so many times before. For the lanky Texan, this is often just a formality and a sure six points would be added to the ledger with the possibility of more. This was going to be the turning point of the game, no matter what happened.
Alas, the football gods are very, very cruel. Marsh pushed towards the end zone and the ball came loose, allowing an Eskimo defender to fall on top of it. With that, any positive momentum for the Alouettes bled out and with one more touchdown later on to add to the Edmonton tally, the hopes of this Montreal team making the playoffs on a crossover vanished into the cold Alberta air.
I’m sure you can lay blame for this loss on Marsh’s shoulders and many already have, but this failed playoff bid is not his fault. At the end of the day, it should never have come to this for the Alouettes. This team should have been better as a whole earlier on and addressed their issues a lot sooner than what they did. But they will have a long winter to think about it. Some serious discussion will have to be had about this organization and what direction they will be going in when training camp opens in June 2016.
We’ll certainly talk about it here at The ALSternative once this season ends, which now we know will be after next Sunday’s game. For the first time in this team’s current incarnation, the Grey Cup playoffs will NOT feature a game with the Montreal Alouettes. After nineteen straight years of appearing in the playoffs, this team will play their final scheduled game next Sunday, pack their bags a couple of days later then head for home to start the off-season.
It’s not a good feeling. Players and fans alike are understandably frustrated. Especially when you consider the success this Alouettes team has had over those 19 years, this post-Calvillo era has had very few bright spots. Winning cures all and can mask some of the more underlying problems. Losing shines a 1000 watt light on those same problems and makes them nearly impossible to simply cover up.
As always, I strive to make this a positive place for Alouettes Nation. But I also have to be objective and call it like it is: This was a game the Alouettes had to have and once again, it slipped through their fingers. That’s been the overlying theme of this 2015 season. But dwelling on the negative does no good.
I think a lot of people would just as soon hope that the Birds of Prey simply come out next Sunday, play with the pride and honour they are capable of and successfully defend the nest one more time in 2015.
I’ll preview that final game of the season versus the Roughriders in a few days. In the meantime, keep Michael Klassen in your thoughts and let’s hope he ends up being just like Marc-O was after that Eastern final in 2012; a little banged up, but just fine.
GO ALS GO!!!