After months and 13 games of heartbreak and frustration, the Montreal Alouettes did something yesterday that they haven’t done since August 11, 2017: Win a football game.
The Alouettes beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 25-17 in a match that, in many instances, was as flat as the prairies themselves. But as I have said numerous times before, ugly wins count the same in the standings and Montreal needed this win badly.
Both teams came out with quarterbacks that had something to prove; Drew Willy was no doubt feeling the pressure to perform after the team re-acquired Vernon Adams Jr. last week and Brandon Bridge was starting for the Riders in place of Zach Collaros, who was placed on the six game injury list due to concussion symptoms.
Willy played his usual safe style of football, going 8 for 15 with 157 yards. He did manage to find Chris Williams for a brilliant 79 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Most notable about the touchdown was Williams blowing past former Alouette Duron Carter, who was tasked with keeping the speedster in check. As great a player as Duron is, he let Williams get into his head on the field and it cost the Riders on the scoreboard.
Boris Bede had himself a game, notching 5 field goals and a Rouge for the Alouettes. After two shaky games, the France-born kicker got himself back on track. His 45 yard field goal late in the fourth quarter was the icing on the cake as Montreal now sports a 1-2 record. This is also their first road win since November 2016.
Defensively, the Alouettes looked like the team there were supposed to be when the season started. Branden Dozier was a man possessed, with six defensive tackles and an interception. John Bowman made his 2018 debut and did not disappoint, leading the charge on defense. He and Jamaal Westerman made it a long evening for the Riders as they manned the defensive line and gave both Riders QBs plenty of fits.
The Alouettes’ secondary was dangerous, with Joe Burnett, Jermaine Robinson and Najee Murray also picking off Saskatchewan’s pivots. Murray’s interception was especially timely as the Riders were down by two and Riders QB David Watford was looking to complete the comeback against their classic foes.
There was a lot to dislike about this game aesthetically. Both teams were expected to be better than what they currently are in 2018 and both will no doubt be poring over the game film to figure out what worked and what didn’t. But for now, the Alouettes no doubt feel like a major weight has been lifted off their shoulders and will look to carry over this good feeling as they host the Ottawa RedBlacks at home this Friday.
The pre-game energy was at an all-time high, as this game was a tribute to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, whose bus crash on April 6th affected not only the entire province of Saskatchewan, but the entire nation as well. The surviving members of the crash came out at midfield to participate in the coin toss (which was done with a Broncos hockey puck, no less!). Both teams came out waving “Humboldt Strong” flags as they took to the field and only the truly soulless would have not been affected by this outpouring of support and emotion.
Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of New Mosaic Stadium as it was roughly 85% completed and was blown away. Now having experienced it at 100% on a game day, I can say that it is truly a spectacular place to watch a football game. With great sightlines, massive concourses and plenty of technology invested in order to provide the best possible atmosphere, there’s simply no better place to enjoy a Canadian Football League game.
A personal highlight for me was finally experiencing one of the Roughriders’ signature food items in person. When the stadium officially opened last July, fans were able to purchase hot dogs that were two feet long, either plain to add the usual condiments or with onions, cheese and chili on it. The latter is called the Dirty Lineman and it is GLORIOUS.
On the surface, this is an example of pure gluttony. But the taste is out of this world and actually shares pretty well. If you ever come out to Saskatchewan to take in a Riders game, the Dirty Lineman is a must-have. Wash it down with some craft beer (or Pilsner if you absolutely have to have that Saskatchewan feeling) and your Rider game day experience will truly be one for the ages.
When Saskatchewan is awarded the Grey Cup game again, those who have never been to this barn will be blown away at just how terrific it is to watch football in the prairies.
This was also the Alouettes Fan Plane game. The team has organized road trip games in the past and they have always been a great experience. With the addition of the team’s own charter plane, fans are now able to fly to a game versus taking a train or a bus to a rival stadium.
The past two seasons saw Alouettes fans being flown to Hamilton and Toronto. But this season it was announced that the team was flying fans to Regina to see the Alouettes play the Roughriders at New Mosaic Stadium. Since the team announced this particular type of fan trip experience, I’ve said that they need to offer trips out west to really make it a memorable time. And the Alouettes organization nailed it.
Roughly 60 fans including myself boarded the charter plane, flew to Regina and took in the game. A meet and greet with the players on the field post-game and I think the Alouettes players were just as happy to see their diehard fans as the fans were to see their favourite players.
Staying overnight in Regina, everyone was able to see how it’s done in the prairies. Despite these teams and their history on the field (including a pair of classic Grey Cup matches!), the Rider fans were very welcoming to the Alouettes fanbase, mixing in some good-natured chirping with adult beverages in hand.
With tailgates and a stadium experience like no other, I don’t think anyone regretted shelling out the $700 for this trip. The Alouettes winning the game certainly helped but I think a lot of the fans that had never been to Regina before would easily return again if the opportunity presented itself.
I hope that the Alouettes see the value in trips like this and continue going out west to other CFL cities in order to let fans see a place they may have never considered before and to expand the love of the CFL far beyond their expectations.
That’s all for now. This was a much-needed win for the Montreal Alouettes and while there is still a lot more work to be done, there is a sense of relief now that this team will not go 0-18 like some pundits had predicted.
Getting that first win in nearly a calendar year is great. But this team needs to keep the momentum moving forward as they play their first divisional game in 2018 this Friday.
Merci Saskatchewan, you were a terrific host.