378 days ago, I sat in the stands at Percival Molson Stadium and watched the Montreal Alouettes win a game against the Toronto Argonauts. In those 378 days, I’ve seen a lot of things.
I’ve seen three different head coaches. I’ve seen six different starting quarterbacks for the Alouettes. I’ve seen quite a bit but something I haven’t seen was another victory at Percival Molson Stadium. Until last night.
The Montreal Alouettes finally got that King Kong-sized monkey off their backs with a victory over the same Argos they beat 378 days ago, winning 25-22 in front of a crowd of 16,480. While not selling out or even drawing in casual fans looking for a certain star attraction, those in attendance were a part of something special.
How do you spell redemption? P-I-P-K-I-N.
Released after a less than stellar training camp, Antonio Pipkin proved that it’s not over until it’s over. Despite numerous other quarterbacks trying their hand here in Montreal, injuries forced the Alouettes to bring Pipkin back into the nest for relief.
When Johnny Manziel got his bell rung in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago, it was Pipkin who was tasked with leading this one-win team under centre. Although his debut last week in Edmonton didn’t yield the best results, he played well enough in that loss to prove that he deserved one more chance to get the Alouettes their second win of 2016.
And on Friday night, he did just that. Going 22/32 with over 300 yards passing (!) and two rushing touchdowns, Pipkin proved himself to be more than capable. He did throw an interception that was taken back for a touchdown, but that was hardly Antonio’s fault. The ball bounced off Ernest Jackson‘s fingers and into the hands of Toronto’s Alton Darby, who took it back 46 yards for a touchdown.
What impressed me above all else was Pipkin’s poise. At just 23 years of age, Antonio looked poised and under control. Nothing rattled him. His ability to bounce back after mistakes was incredible and he was able to develop that relationship with his receivers. Throughout the evening, Pipkin found six different receivers and got great yardage from his core group.
Pipkin was also able to get the ground game going, putting running backs William Stanback and Ryder Stone to good use. Even Pipkin himself was able to move the chains with his educated feet, giving the Argos defense all kinds of fits. Montreal was leading at halftime, but they have done that in previous games with results that are best forgotten. The ability of this team to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory has really been something to see in 2018.
And the last team you want to be ahead of in recent weeks is this Argos team with Mcleod Bethel-Thompson behind centre. He’s brought the Argos back from the dead in his previous two outings and was looking to do it for a third time in a row. He was also playing against a team whose defense has not exactly played to its full potential this season.
With the score knotted at 22 thanks to Antonio Pipkin’s second TD run of the night, the stage was set for a thrilling finish regardless of who won. A quick Argos two and out would give the ball back to Montreal with 5:53 on the clock. Pipkin went to work, chipping away at the field in front of him as well as the time clock with some timely passes that moved the chains, a few yards at a time.
At the two minute mark, Montreal found themselves at first and goal and waiting for an Argos injury on the ensuing play to be dealt with. Then a moment in time happened that will sound crazy as I describe it. But if you were there in the stands, I am certain you felt it too.
Playing music during these injury timeouts is nothing new at Percival Molson Stadium. But the Alouettes’ DJ started playing the classic Journey song Don’t Stop Believin’ and like something out of a movie, EVERYONE in the stands started singing along! It became a 16K+ karaoke event and this Montreal crowd was united in hope!
You often see this at NFL games to rally the team, but I can’t remember when this last happened in Montreal. It also hit me that very few people had left to beat the traffic or whatever BS excuse people have to cut out early. Alouettes Nation was not only going to see this through, but they came ready to will their team to victory!
With all this good energy and excitement in the air, Pipkin and the Alouettes did everything they could to score the go-ahead touchdown. But alas, all they could muster was another Boris Bede field goal, his fourth of the evening. And even that came with a caveat as a time count violation backed up the Als another ten yards.
With the score now 25-22, there remained 1:10 on the clock for Argos head coach Marc Trestman and Bethel-Thompson to at least tie this game, if not win it. 1:10 is practically a lifetime in the Canadian Football League. This Montreal defense had to play its best game of the season right here, right now.
As Bethel-Thompson started his drive, the Alouettes fans got very loud with the help of the mini-cowbells handed out before the game. Despite the NFL journeyman connecting with his receivers, the crowd at Percival Molson got louder and louder. Time ticked away and the crowd noise reached a fever pitch. It had been a long time since Alouettes fans had something to make noise for.
With ten seconds left on the game clock and Henoc Muamba driving Toronto’s James Wilder Jr. back for a loss, Trestman decided to go for the tie and force overtime. As Argos kicker (and Alouettes training camp hand) Zachery Medeiros trotted onto the field, the clanging of cowbells and the screams from the crowd reached its apex. This crowd was DEAFENING.
Needing the ball to travel 54 yards to continue this game, Medeiros lined up as zeros hit the clock. He booted the ball skywards and it flew through the air towards the gaping maw of the field goal uprights. Then it happened.
The football curved a bit to the left while in flight and made contact with the upright. A dead ball was declared and this game was over!
After 378 days and numerous amounts of sand being kicked in their faces in that time, the Montreal Alouettes were finally victorious at Percival Molson Stadium. The year-long losing streak at home is FINALLY done!!!
The ensuing eruption of cheering was something I have not heard in that barn in a long, long time. After losing consecutive home games this season where 40+ points had been scored on them, the sheer joy of what took place Friday night became a memory etched in time.
The Montreal Alouettes desperately needed this victory against the Argos and they got it. They freaking got it. Wow.
Now in the aftermath of all this comes a sure-fire quarterbacking controversy. Do you stay with the relatively hot hand in Pipkin, who has played well in his two matches or do you go back to the superstar (if he’s medically cleared, that is) that you sold the farm to get?
If this were any other team, Pipkin would get the start without a second thought. But the Montreal Alouettes are not any other team, that’s for sure. If Johnny Manziel can play, then he will certainly be given the opportunity to do so. After all, there still is a lot of Johnny Football merch to move at the stadium.
But seeing how this team has played under Pipkin’s leadership already, it would be very tempting, perhaps even intelligent, to stick with this wunderkind quarterback. Chemistry is crucial and the players have shown that they want to play for Pipkin, so why try to fix what’s suddenly not so broken?
Again, this could be all for nothing if Manziel is still not 100%. He had been suffering from light sensitivity as a result of his concussion and this could set him back still. At least now Montreal has a true quarterback that has faced a trial by fire and is playing better than anyone could have possibly expected.
Antonio Pipkin has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. He didn’t just come as advertised; he has more than met expectations. I stated earlier this year that I felt that Pipkin could be given the chance to prove he’s the quarterback for the future here in Montreal, along with Matthew Shiltz.
It’s safe to say that he is making the most of that opportunity. Pipkin’s play has given this team a shot in the arm. Speaking with him briefly after the game, he was at a loss for words when it came to this big victory. His teammates are on the same page as him and that has to be a major relief for the rookie pivot.
I won’t go so far as to say that this will be the point where it all turns around for Montreal. Let’s not forget that this is still the Eastern division we’re talking about. But for a team that has been in such a funk this season and has changed rosters the way most people change their socks, this was a major victory.
Alouettes Nation, enjoy this win. I really wasn’t expecting another win this season and I will gladly eat crow for saying that. But there is still a lot more work to be done in order to at least salvage the rest of this season. I hope that the new players on this team heard this crowd and were inspired by just how loud they can be when you actually give them something to cheer for.
I also hope that the few remaining veterans were reminded of that as well and it helps them inspire the youngsters on this team to produce more wins for this fan base. It won’t be long before they will have to step aside and let these same kids have the opportunity to be heroes themselves.
Last night’s win wasn’t the greatest one in team history. It wasn’t even the greatest victory of THIS season. But the Alouettes got their act together and played a decent game, thanks to a new face in the quarterbacking corps of the CFL. This was just what the doctor ordered for this fanbase.
Here’s hoping this moment and this small but boisterous crowd made them feel like winners and inspires just a little bit more. Thanks for reading.