There’s beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success
The Montreal Alouettes lived up to this axiom Thursday night, opening their 2017 season with a 17-16 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. A match that was heavily hyped by many, as it featured former Riders QB Darian Durant battling the team that he was the face of for a decade plus.
Durant came into this game with something to prove. He maintained that he was past the shock and awe that came with the only team he ever knew shipping him east this past January. In the days and weeks leading up to this game, you got the feeling that perhaps deep down Darian really felt like he had to show Saskatchewan GM/Head Coach Chris Jones the error of his ways.
The end result was a solid outing for Doubles, going 20/31 with 233 yards passing with zero picks. Durant also landed a pair of touchdowns, a 65 yard bomb to B.J. Cunningham and sailing it over everyone’s head to find Ernest Jackson in the end zone. Tyrell Sutton was put to good use on the ground, notching 68 rushing yards on 13 carries. After his first attempt earlier in the game struck the upright, Boris Bede scored a 18 yard chip shot of a field goal. That would end up being the winning score for Montreal.
If you didn’t know the name Jonathon Mincy before, you certainly do now after Thursday’s game. Last year’s Most Outstanding Rookie nominee for the Alouettes was on fire, knocking down balls and effectively shutting down former Alouette Duron Carter, who had a mere two catches to his name versus his old squad.
Mincy also made a jaw-dropping interception, anticipating ex-Alouette QB Kevin Glenn‘s throw and timing the jump just right to snag the ball as the Riders were threatening to score in the fourth quarter. Both Mincy and Greg Henderson were part of the rookie class in the secondary last season and proved to be valuable finds for Montreal. And they have not yet begun to reach their prime!
But this dominant Noel Thorpe defense did look lackluster at times, as Glenn was able to march down the field several times. The defense had no answer for Nic Demski, who was the starting National receiver for the Riders and really stood out Thusrday night. The Riders’ offense looked a little more cohesive overall than Montreal’s but they also struggled to put points on the board.
When Saskatchewan did finally find the end zone, it was not without controversy.
Glenn connected with Bakari Grant for a 19 yard touchdown but just before Grant had crossed the goal line, Alouettes DB Travis Hawkins ripped the ball out and recovered it in the end zone.
Despite the video review clearly showing that Grant had no control of the ball as he broke the plane, the call of a touchdown stood. Naturally, this angered many football fans (including those who were not fans of either team!) and didn’t help the argument that video review would and should eliminate such egregious calls.
The second half featured a lot more action as both teams finally woke up and put together some inspiring game play. With less than 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Durant drove his team downfield and looked like the Darian Durant of old, leading the comeback. The peak play came when Montreal’s other QB Vernon Adams engineered a brilliant call on 3rd and 1, deftly handing off to B.J. Cunningham for a jet sweep that gained 21 yards. An extra 12 were tacked on to that due to an untimely Saskatchewan horse collar tackle.
The Alouettes took the lead but plenty of time remained for the Riders to spoil the party on Mont-Royal. Starting at his own 26, Kevin Glenn inched his way downfield, racking up first downs as the Riders also chipped away at the game clock. Chris Jones wanted to ensure that if the Riders scored, there would be no time left on the clock for Darian Durant and the Als to possibly come back.
All that stood between the Riders and the first victory of the season was 45 yards of field turf . With no time left on the clock, Jones sent out kicker Tyler Crapigna to kick the game-winning field goal right down the middle. A game that started out so dull and unassuming had reached a fever pitch as two fanbases held their collective breath.
There was no wind, but there were 20,000 Montreal fans making a deafening noise in an attempt to rattle the young National kicker, who now had the game on the end of his foot. Crapigna booted the ball skyward….and the kick went wide right.
Stefan Logan took the ball out of the end zone to seal the Alouettes’ victory and sending the Percival Molson crowd into a euphoric frenzy.
Perhaps the happiest person in the entire stadium at that moment was Montreal’s pivot, who slayed the dragon and gained a measure of revenge against the man who dismissed a decade’s worth of toil and sacrifice with a wave of his hand. After the game Durant talked about the “football gods” and how sometimes, they have a way of ensuring the right winner is crowned.
In reality, both teams played hard but their overall execution was flawed more often than not. Many people believe that the first official game is in reality a third pre-season match that just happens to count in the standings. It certainly felt that way, as both Montreal and Saskatchewan clearly still have some kinks to work out.
But a win is a win and Montreal will look to build on this momentum. They will now prepare for their first road game of the season versus the Edmonton Eskimos next Friday night. The province of Alberta has not been a kind one to the Birds of Prey in recent years. They will look to change that against an Eskimos team that has gone through a fair bit of upheaval themselves this past off-season.
As always, be sure to follow along on Twitter for more thoughts and opinions throughout the week. We’ll also be discussing this game and more on the Alouettes Flightdeck, a proud member of the Canadian Football Podcast Network.
1-0 to start the 2017 season…..Not too shabby, even if it was a bowling shoe-ugly way to do it.