Part 1 of the battle for first place in the East goes this Friday in Montreal

The Montreal Alouettes kick off the second third of their 2017 season this Friday. Their potential reward for successfully defending the nest against the Toronto Argonauts? Just first place in the Eastern division. No big deal.

This game will feel like a big deal for a lot of Alouettes fans, as a lot of their former favourites will be back at Percival Molson Stadium. But they will be looking a little different, as they will be wearing the Double Blue of the Argos. It started in Toronto with the off-season hiring of Jim Popp and Marc Trestman, the architects of the last back-to-back Grey Cup champions.

Since then, this Argos team has taken on a very Montreal flavour. Toronto wasted no time in signing several former Als like Bear Woods, Jeff Finley and Alan-Michael Cash. They also weren’t afraid to make a trade with Montreal, shipping a pair of draft picks to the 514 in exchange for S.J. Green. It was a potentially risky move as Green was coming off a major knee injury that sidelined him for the 2016 season.

The risk paid off, as Green has been outstanding for Toronto in 2017. Paired up with his former Grey Cup winning coach & GM while working with an elite quarterback in Ricky Ray, Soloman Junior doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat. Whoever didn’t clear S.J. medically for the Alouettes really screwed up, giving the team some bad info.

Green has stated that he has been looking forward to this game for a long time, eager to show Alouettes GM Kavis Reed and the rest of the team that they made a major mistake in giving up on the talented receiver. We’ll also see just how conflicted Alouettes fans are this Friday, as they want to remain loyal to their team yet also likely still feel the love for the stars that played so long ago for the Alouettes.

Toronto will be in tough for this game, as they will not have their top quarterback in the lineup. Ricky Ray suffered a shoulder injury last week in the loss to Calgary and will travel, but can only offer moral support to his squad. Lining up behind centre is Jeff Mathews, who has yet to see any sort of game action this season.

Originally brought to the CFL by Kent Austin as a potential project, Mathews has not seen a lot of action. But there must be something that Marc Trestman sees in the young Cornell pivot, as he chose to keep the youngster over experienced QB Drew Willy at the end of training camp. Argo QBs who replace Ricky Ray because of injury have typically had success in that first game they play, going 4-1 since 2012.

But that one loss came against Montreal back in 2013. And a big reason why the Argos’ backup QBs don’t do well at Percival Molson Stadium is none other than sackmaster general John Bowman. Of the 115 sacks that Bowman has notched in his career, 25 of them came from sacking Argo quarterbacks.

John played a great game two weeks ago versus Winnipeg, putting a hurt on Matt Nichols every chance he got. He’ll be looking to add to his sack tally this Friday by trying to put the former Cornell University pivot on his rear end. Montreal’s defense will be looking to redeem themselves after letting Winnipeg come and win before the bye week.

The Chip Cox DB experiment looks to thankfully be over, as he returns to his usual SAM linebacker spot. It will be Branden Dozier who will now team up with Brandon Stewart to halt the Argos receivers in their tracks. While out in the boundary, Jonathon Mincy will be tasked with shutting down S.J. Green. Mincy will be extra-motivated as this defense needs to make their opposing quarterback as uncomfortable as possible.

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While on offense, the Darian Durant who played some great football during his last six quarters will have to make his presence felt early and often. He will have weapons like Tyrell Sutton and Tiquan Underwood back in the lineup. Expect to see Montreal pound this D-Line with a lot of rushing from both Sutton and J-C Beaulieu, who continues to impress week in and week out.

Nik Lewis will also have to play this game with his renewed vigor, as he continues to chase CFL history. He needs six catches to equal Alouettes legend Ben Cahoon on the all-time reception list. Barring injury, Lewis will surpass Geroy Simon as the CFL’s all-time leader this season. A feat like this will only add to the legend that is Thick Nik.

Montreal will have to take advantage of Toronto’s uncertainty at quarterback and pile on the points. This game will be the start of a home-and-home series and the winner will have the dubious honour of being the very best of a very bad Eastern division. With the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still winless and the Ottawa RedBlacks’ inability to get more into the win column, this is a prime chance for Montreal to truly establish themselves. Especially in these crucial games against divisional foes.

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It will be a beautiful evening weather-wise Friday night, but given the play of this team of late, don’t be surprised if the casual fans stay away still. Hard to blame them, as most folks won’t want to trade in a nice summer’s eve to watch a boring football game.  This will be a case of winning fixing everything.

If Montreal can get the win and then go to BMO Field the next week and win there, not only will they be on a winning streak but they will be sitting on top of the division with games in hand. As quickly as everyone had written off these Alouettes, they can just as quickly shut everyone’s mouths with some solid play and some W’s on the board.

Friday’s game will also be the first Pride game for the Montreal Alouettes, as the team partners up with the You Can Play project to promote awareness of the LBGTQ community as part of the Canada Pride celebration all this month. There is a special rate for tickets to Friday’s game with a portion of the proceeds going to Équipe Montreal. For more info, check out the Fierté Montréal Pride web site.

As always, be sure to swing by the Montreal tailgate party before to game, put on by Les Gars Qui Vivent. Just look for the silver trailer and the blue tent on the east side of the stadium.

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That’s all for now. The Alouettes were forced to choke down a huge slice of humble pie two weeks ago and had this loss to Winnipeg to gnaw on since then. They need to come out in front of their faithful fans on Friday and take their frustrations out on a reeling team that has themselves come down to earth after a hot start.

This may not be the prettiest game to watch. But the win counts just as much, It’s now time to see just what this Montreal Alouettes team is really made of.

Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.

GO ALS GO!!!

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