Today’s game was a microcosm of the Montreal Alouettes’ 2015 season; Some flashes of brilliance, some hard-nosed play and some misfortune that led to another close loss that will stick in the craw for some time.
But unlike all the other games, this one required extra time! The Alouettes played their first overtime game of 2015 and sadly, it ended with the same result that twelve of their other games ended.
Losing 30-24 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Montreal has set a new personal benchmark for futility by posting their worst record since returning to the CFL in 1996. Their playoff fate was sealed last Sunday versus Edmonton, so today’s game was better served as a chance to evaluate just what kind of depth this team has as they now look toward the 2016 football season.
Today marked a bit of Canadian football history, as Mississauga-born Brandon Bridge became the first Canadian-born QB to start a CFL game since October 27, 1996. How would Bridge perform in a relatively low-risk situation against a team that could only muster two wins this season? Turns out, he did pretty well.
Going 21 of 30 with 220 yards in the air and finding both Tyrell Sutton and B.J. Cunningham for touchdowns, Bridge played a very solid game under centre. It helped to have the always dangerous Sutton to hand the ball off too. In addition to his TD catch, Sutton was able to post another 100+ yards on the ground. As much as Stefan Logan was an absolute force to be reckoned with this season, you could also make a solid argument that Tyrell Sutton would have been a great choice for the MOP candidate for the Alouettes this season.
Montreal scored quickly to start this game, with Bridge marching the Alouettes downfield with precision and the drive ending with backup QB Anthony Boone plunging into the end zone. When Saskatchewan played its first series, they encountered the Montreal defense that kept opposing offensive coordinators up at night. A quick two and out was punctured by John Bowman recording his 100th career QB sack. There is a good chance that Bowman may be leaning towards retirement. If so, he was able to share one more shining moment with the Alouettes fans in what will be a brilliant Hall of Fame career.
Roughriders starting QB Keith Price managed to find Ryan Smith in the end zone to pull within one point, but the chess match continued as both teams struggled to find the end zone. That was until Brandon Bridge was able to officially record his first CFL touchdown pass to Tyrell Sutton. The score was 14-6 going into the half. It was a short sample size at that point, but Bridge looked comfortable leading this squad and gave Alouettes Nation more food for thought when it comes to the future signal-caller for the Birds of Prey.
This year alone, FIVE men have been able to call themselves a starting quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes. This will be Kevin Glenn’s football team starting next season but after that, who will assume the baton? Will Rakeem Cato be able to get himself back on track after a tumultuous rookie season? Will Jonathan Crompton overcome this injury-riddled season? Can the snake-bitten Tanner Marsh be that threat he was once touted to be? Or will the strength of today’s performance be enough for the Alouettes coaching staff (which does includes a legendary quarterback in Anthony Calvillo) to go all-in on the kid from Canada?
The second half was where the Roughriders were able to collect themselves and reintroduce another potential stud at quarterback in Brett Smith. Much like Cato, he was thrown into the fire when Darian Durant and Kevin Glenn both went down to injury in Regina. This young gunslinger has played hard all season but has also been the victim of having a team in front of him that just couldn’t finish what they started. Today was his chance to also make an impression and give people pause for consideration out in the prairies.
Down 24-6 in the fourth quarter, the Riders had nothing to lose and played like it, where Montreal was content to coast on their lead. That decision cost the Alouettes dearly as Smith was able to connect with Ryan Smith on some beautiful passes that caught the Montreal defense with their pants down. I had said in my game preview that Ryan Smith better have a man on him at all times or he’d burn the Alouettes. Sure enough, that happened numerous times on this sunny and cold November afternoon.
I also said that Roughriders RB Anthony Allen was going to get a lot of touches. And he did, posting 54 yards on the ground with both QBs did some major scrambling of their own to move the chains. While not the prettiest way to put points on the board, the Riders kept chipping away at the lead and Montreal simply couldn’t stop them when it counted. Like so many games earlier this season, the Alouettes let the lead slip through their fingers.
With eight seconds left on the game clock, Tyler Crapigna atoned for his missed extra point earlier in the game with a clutch 39 yard strike to send this game into overtime. Momentum was clearly on the side of Saskatchewan as they were able to score a touchdown on their first OT possession, but couldn’t score on the required two-point convert. If Montreal could have responded by also scoring a TD and then making their two-point convert, this column would have a much more cheerful tone to it.
The moment wasn’t too big for Bridge and he got Montreal within striking distance. But Saskatchewan would not be denied their third victory of the season, even if they had to go into overtime to get it. I’m not sure what stings more for the Alouettes and their fans; losing in overtime or blowing an eighteen point lead in the fourth quarter. I suppose it really doesn’t matter as this game really meant little in the grand scheme of things. Both teams would still pack their bags this week, head for home and watch the Grey Cup playoffs on TV regardless of who emerged victorious.
It would have been such a confidence boost for this Alouettes team to at least send the 20,000+ fans in the stands home with one last win in 2015. Instead it’s the Riders’ fans that will get savour the taste of victory, one of very few they were given this season by their team. It really is remarkable that of the three wins that Saskatchewan posted this season, TWO of them were against the Montreal Alouettes.
Yes, the same Alouettes who have themselves two Grey Cup victories over these same Roughriders. I guess if you want to look for positives, being able to lay claim to the season series against such a rival is one that Riders fans can hang their hat on.
Now as the saying goes, it’s all over but the crying. This week will feature plenty of garbage bags being filled as the Alouette players clean out their lockers. Exit interviews will be had as this team will now start the evaluation process and determine what exactly lead to this point and what will happen going forward as this Alouettes team puts this disappointing season to bed.
I’ll expand more on that in the coming days, weeks and months as the off-season is now officially underway. Suffice to say that this year’s season review column will be a doozy, as I will sift through all that happened in 2015 while trying not to swallow my own tongue in the process.
Regardless of the results on the field, I still hold this team in the highest esteem. This year gave me the opportunity to observe them more in-depth and it’s been an absolute treat to bump up my fandom of this Alouettes team to another level. I certainly didn’t anticipate this end result but as this organization prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its return to the Canadian Football League, I can’t help but be excited of the prospect of what lies ahead.
Alouettes Nation, it’s been a bumpy ride. But this team will rise again and I plan on being there to discuss it with you all. Personally, I can’t wait.
GO ALS GO!!!