Bad news, folks: Summer is pretty well over. It’s Labour Day weekend and then it’s back to the full-time grind of school, work and other responsibilities. The good news? Football is starting to get serious, y’all.
There are many who say that the CFL season truly begins on Labour Day weekend. Each game truly becomes a must win if your team wants to have any hope of making the Grey Cup playoffs. This is also a rivalry weekend, with plenty of long-time foes squaring off.
With that in mind, the Montreal Alouettes will be looking to build off the momentum of their first home win in over a year. In order to get their third win of the season to equal their dubious mark of last year, they must head to the nation’s capital to face their Highway 417 rivals in the Ottawa RedBlacks.
On paper, this is a complete mismatch. Ottawa sports a 6-3 record and already have a pair of victories over the Alouettes. The last match between these two became infamous as the RedBlacks put Alouettes pivot Johnny Manziel on the sidelines with a concussion and squeaked out a 24-17 win. Montreal led for the better part of the game but ultimately snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
But there’s a new plot twist to this three chapter story; Johnny Football will dress for this game, but he will not be the starter! Montreal is wisely going with the hot hand at quarterback and will be relying on last week’s winning QB Antonio Pipkin to go get himself another win. Pipkin is currently 1-1 as starter for the Alouettes and proved last week that he is making the most of his opportunity.
This is the second time that Manziel will serve as a backup to a young Alouettes quarterback. But unlike what Vernon Adams had to endure in his lone start, there is no pressure to have Manziel play this game. For the time being, this is Pipkin’s spot to lose. Playing the game in Ottawa, people will be screaming for Johnny Football to play. But those will be fans of the wishful thinking department, likely eager to see the former Heisman winner hopefully get his bell rung again.
Last week, Pipkin played very well against an Argos team that probably took Montreal too lightly, expecting them to collapse in the fourth quarter as they have done before this season. I don’t think Ottawa will be taking the Alouettes so lightly, especially after the last time these two teams met on August 11th. RedBlacks DC Noel Thorpe will be looking to put a hurt on his former squad and he will have one of his key mercenaries back in the lineup in former Alouette Kyries Hebert.
This RedBlacks defense has been on point all season long and will be looking for the sweep against a Montreal offense that has been pretty well non-existent for most of the season. The Alouettes are now finally starting to put points on the board and this trend will have to continue, especially as they face noted Alouettes killer Trevor Harris.
Harris has owned the Alouettes at nearly every turn, posting a 7-1 record when playing the Birds of Prey. He’s had five games with over 300 passing yards in his career when playing Montreal. That includes this year, where he notched 342 and 487 yards (!) against Montreal. Simply put, Harris has this team pretty well figured out.
Harris will be looking to the three-headed monster that makes up the bulk of his receiving corps to once again scorch this Montreal defense. The trio of Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and Dionte Spencer have been running amok all season long for the RedBlacks and will be looking to feast once again on a beleaguered secondary. Sinopoli alone has been making his campaign felt for not just Most Outstanding Canadian in the CFL, but also Most Outstanding Player.
Some way, some how Montreal has to contain this National all-star receiver.
Help is on the way for this woeful Alouettes defense. Last week saw the return of John Bowman, who had a monster game against the Argos despite tearing his bicep a few weeks earlier. His mere presence automatically boosts the profile of this defensive line for Montreal. And this week, he’s being joined by an old friend.
The Alouettes traded Gabriel Knapton to the BC Lions this past December in order to acquire the services of Chris Williams. Williams became a bright spot for the Alouettes while Knapton seemed to have gotten lost in the rotation with the Lions. In an odd twist of fate, Williams was traded to the Tiger-Cats as part of the Johnny Manziel deal and Knapton was released by the Lions.
The Alouettes wasted little time in re-adding the fearsome defensive end back into their fold. Unfortunately for Williams, an Achilles injury has ended his 2018 season in Hamilton. So the Alouettes essentially lent Gabriel Knapton to the Lions and was able to flip the asset they got for him. And now they were able to re-acquire Knapton’s services for free at a time where the pass rush in Montreal is practically non-existent.
The CFL, man….. Sometimes, it’s pretty wild.
The Alouettes will also have a new face in the backfield as Lawrence Pittman will make his CFL debut as the starting tailback. Tyrell Sutton is still dealing with a thigh injury and his understudy William Stanback suffered a hamstring injury against Toronto last week. As a result, we get to see the debut of the former Wingate University (John Bowman’s alma mater, BTW) standout.
Pittman brings a physical presence at six feet and 225 pounds. Despite that muscle, he can still turn on the jets and chew up yards on the ground. Working in tandem with National rookie Ryder Stone, these two will hopefully get the chance to further establish Montreal’s ground game, which has been posting some decent numbers in recent weeks.
Does Montreal have a chance to win this game? I’d say they do. I think Pipkin has shown that he can handle the pressure despite only being 23 years of age. He will only get better with time and more reps behind centre. While it would have been easy for Montreal to go back to Johnny Manziel, I think this brief stint in the backup role will actually help Manziel in the long run.
Should Pipkin and the Alouettes win, they will be heading into the bye week with a true quarterback controversy. Like him or not, the Alouettes didn’t trade a wealth of assets to have Manziel simply hold a clipboard on the sidelines. He’s expected to play and play he will. But then how do you cast aside the guy who led your team to two straight wins? This can really be a tough call for this team to make.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, the Alouettes have to find a way to shut down the top team in the East. Divisional games are crucial and if Montreal wants to make any sort of effort in a run to the playoffs, the time to win is now. Antonio Pipkin gives the Alouettes the best possible chance of winning and he will be displaying all of his talent for the world to see in Ottawa.
That’s all for now. Be sure to follow along on Twitter for all your last-minute news, thoughts and so much more as the Alouettes look to build on last week’s big win. It’s time for another divisional victory, now that the “real” CFL season gets underway.
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you are watching it.