There was only one thing the Montreal Alouettes had to do in order to end the 2016 home stand on a positive note: defend the nest against the best team in the Canadian Football League.
Consider the nest defended.
The Alouettes played their final home game of the 2016 season and handed the Calgary Stampeders their SECOND loss of the season. Besting the Stamps by a 17-8 score, Montreal has FINALLY put together a winning streak and can do no worse than match their win record from last season.
Calgary now goes on their bye week and thanks to their still impressive 15-2-1 record, won’t play another football game until they host the Western Final on November 20th. WhereasMontreal will head to Hamilton this Saturday to play the Tiger-Cats and try to end this season on a positive note.
Yesterday’s game was another opportunity for the Alouettes’ youngsters to shine and make their case for next season. Vernon Adams made his second professional start and it took a while for the offense to get going. Three straight two and outs by Montreal made it a bit uneasy for the Alouettes faithful to start off the day. Add to that a Calgary field goal plus a safety conceded by Alouettes kicker Boris Bede
But Adams settled into a groove and was able to move the ball with both his feet and some timely passes to his receivers. Montreal scored the first touchdown thanks to the stout running of Brandon Rutley, who has done a great job this season subbing for the injured Tyrell Sutton. But the excitement of Adams leading the team took an ugly turn in the first series of the second half.
Up 7-5, Adams took a wicked shot from Stamps defender Micah Johnson and was forced to leave the game in some serious discomfort, favouring his leg. This meant that the Alouettes had to turn back to the QB that was starting for them earlier but with less than favourable results. Rakeem Cato was forced into action against a Stampeders team that was eager to escape La Belle Province injury-free.
And much like he did the last time he faced the Stampeders at Percival Molson Stadium, Cato stunned everyone with his outstanding play! He connected with Tiquan Underwood for a stunning 37 yard touchdown to complete that first series of the second half and make it 14-5. It was just a picture-perfect throw from Cato that seemed to fall perfectly into the hands of Underwood, who’s been known to score some pretty impressive touchdowns in his short CFL career.
But Cato wasn’t done impressing everyone! Later in the quarter and deep in his own end, the former Marshall pivot put his feet to good use when he couldn’t find any open receivers. Tucking the ball in on the read option and finding the hole, Cato was off to the races and scurried 73 yards to get into Calgary’s red zone.
While Cato didn’t put up any more points, he certainly gave the hometown fans pause for consideration once again on his ability to play this Canadian style of football. He may not be the solution that Montreal needs at quarterback, but Cato often comes up big when called upon in dire situations.
That alone is worth considering when this team makes it evaluations in the off-season. I do think that there is still a lot of potential in both Adams and Cato when it comes to quarterbacking. It’s just a matter of who will be able to develop and grow properly here in Montreal.
But the big story on offense for Montreal was not the QBs, but rather the stout receiver that has been an absolute warrior game in and game out this season. Nik Lewis had himself a record-setting day with his 94 receiving yards, hurdling past both Allen Pitts and Darren Flutie to 4th place in all-time CFL receptions. For years Alouettes fans loathed Lewis for his punishing style of play when he was a Calgary Stampeder. But now that he wears red/blue/silver, he’s become a major fan favourite in Montreal.
Considered expendable by the Stamps after they won the Grey Cup in 2014, Lewis sought to prove them wrong when he signed with Montreal. He’s become a leader and has backed up his talk with action every single game. After this past Sunday’s match, Lewis said that he has one more good year left in him and wants to play in next year’s Grey Cup game in Ottawa.
Much like Anwar Stewart vowing to play in the 100th Grey Cup in 2012, I have to like Nik’s odds in achieving his goal. With any luck, he’ll be doing that with the Montreal Alouettes. But let’s not get too far ahead here.
On defense, Montreal managed to pull off an incredible feat; they kept the league’s best scoring team out of the end zone! The only points Calgary could score were a pair of Rene Paredes field goals and a safety. For a team that was supposedly wanting to make history, they sure didn’t put their best foot forward.
As this game had no real prize attached to it, the Stamps gave their All-Star QB Bo Levi Mitchell the day off and summoned backup Drew Tate to start against Montreal. For reasons that I will never understand, many Alouettes fans wish that their team would make a deal for this guy. Tate has never proven that he can win consistently and has even gone on record in saying that he relishes the back-up role, content to hold that clipboard and not expend any effort other than place-holding for Parades’ field goal attempts.
To paraphrase from the movie The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick Drew Tate ever pulled was convincing the Canadian Football League that he was a good quarterback.”
This past Sunday was no exception, as Tate went 22/37 for 218 yards, 0 TDs and two INTs. In a league where throwing 300 yards is considered average, Tate was very fortunate to have the league’s leading rusher in his backfield as well as some very talented receivers to cover for his shortcomings. With some timely throws to DaVaris Daniels, Lemar Durant and Kamar Jorden, you could have sworn that the Drew Tate that somehow supplanted Henry Burris back in 2011 was playing in this game.
But alas, plenty of errant passes, a pair of QB sacks by Gabriel Knapton and two interceptions deep in Montreal territory by the young Alouettes secondary were all that was needed to remind anyone watching that Tate’s most impressive talent is convincing the Stampeders ownership to keep giving him a paycheque. If the reports that the Alouettes are in salary cap hell are true, then this bodes well to ensure that Tate never is considered for the quarterback role here in Montreal.
Simply put, this Alouettes franchise is already paying too many people NOT to be here; they don’t need to add Drew Tate’s name to the list.
I think Calgary would have just as easily forfeited this game if they could have rather than risk anyone getting hurt. Starting Tate was the best move for them in order to just close out the season and prepare for the Western Final with as little damage as possible. This defensive performance by Montreal also bolsters the coaching stock of one Noel Thorpe, who will likely be taking his talents elsewhere as it seems like he will be passed over for Alouettes head coach yet again.
Jacques Chapdelaine is now 3-2 as interim head coach and is certainly looking more and more like he has what it can take to get the Alouettes back on track and lead them back to the promised land. One can’t help but wonder if the move to make him head coach was done a month sooner, would the Alouettes still be on the outside looking in regarding the Grey Cup playoffs?
It’s all hearsay now, in any event. Montreal plays its final game of 2016 this Saturday and Chapdelaine will have his team ready to face a Hamilton team that is limping into the playoffs. Their ticket to the dance was officially punched last week when they beat Ottawa in overtime. The only question that remains is who will crossover from the West to play the Tabbies at Tim Hortons Field?
Montreal can’t spoil anything for Hamilton, other than the hopes of the Tigertown fans who want to see a win at the Coffee Grounds. This will be the last chance for some of these young Alouette players to make a bigger name for themselves and be considered for the 2017 roster. For the pending free agents, this will be one last chance to get some highlights in so that potentially another team will break open the piggy bank in exchange for their footballing services.
Hard to believe this season is almost over. But once the final whistle blows late Saturday afternoon, that will be that for the Birds of Prey in 2016. Then there will be a LOT of questions that will need to be answered.
That’s all for now. Be sure to tune into the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast, as Tim Capper and myself discuss more of Montreal’s last home game and what we fans can look forward to as this season draws to a close. You can download all of the Flightdeck’s episodes on Podbean, iTunes or Google Play Music.
Yesterday’s win was a feel good win. There weren’t too many of those for Alouettes Nation this year, so you have to savour every one! Thanks for reading.