If only this particular team showed up a bit earlier in the season…. Oh, what possibly could have been.
The Montreal Alouettes turned in their last game of the 2018 season yesterday and while ESPN Classics Canada won’t likely air it anytime soon, it was still a nice way for this team to redeem itself just a little bit. They outlasted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 30-28, ensuring a 5-13 regular season record and that they were indeed not the worst team of the Canadian Football League.
But let’s put this in proper perspective; the Alouettes barely beat a Tiger-Cats team that rested the vast majority of its starters in preparation for their playoff game next week. And even then, it all came down to the final play of the game as Hamilton lined up to kick a potential game-winning field goal. Hamilton kicker Lirim Hajrullahu took aim, booted the ball 49 yards and it sailed just left for Stefan Logan to wisely return it out of the end zone as zeroes hit the play clock.
Yesterday’s game was one of redemption for Montreal and its starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel. The last time he faced his former team, he had his behind handed to him in spectacular fashion. Manziel never came out and said this week that he wanted to exact revenge on his former squad. But he still had to feel good, knowing that he was able to notch his second CFL win against the team that orignally signed him but never let him see the field in the regular season.
His evening was a short one, going 4/5 with 59 yards and throwing a touchdown to Eugene Lewis, who really balled out last night. Lewis caught a pair of TDs from both Manziel and Antonio Pipkin, who succeeded Manziel at QB and also had himself a game. Pipkin went 8 of 15 with 217 yards passing and two rushing touchdowns to go with his 75 yard bomb to Lewis. Matthew Shiltz came in to finish this match and get some valuable reps in a game situation.
This game featured incredible play from not only Lewis but from William Stanback, the team nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie and Special Teams Player. Stanback had over 130 all-purpose yards and further cemented his starting spot in Montreal’s backfield. He has come into his own this season and proved just how important it is to be ready to go when your number is called.
Stanback replaced Stefan Logan as kick returner when the veteran was injured earlier this year and his play in replacing the departed Tyrell Sutton has been a boost to a team that has historically ignored the run.
On defense, this team has brought itself back from the depths of despair. This secondary got a major boost with the play of rookie Greg Reid, who has steadily improved with each game since taking over for the injured Dominique Ellis. As the Tiger-Cats were putting together a drive to come back in the fourth quarter, Reid was able to read Hamilton QB Dane Evans like a book and picked off the youngster, returning it 31 yards to stop that drive in its tracks.
Wily veteran Jermaine Robinson also was able to pick off Evans, which helped set up Boris Bede’s lone field goal of the game. Tevaughn Campbell and T.J. Heath also got into the action with a pair of knockdowns to further stymie Hamilton’s backup QB.
Once again, Henoc Muamba proved why he was the team’s nominee for multiple CFL awards, including Most Outstanding Defensive Player. With 8 defensive tackles, he helped orchestrate a defense that aimed to punish the opposition and send the message that this is not the sadsack franchise from earlier this year. Both Glenn Love and Branden Dozier also added to the punishment of the Tabbies, further proving that they belong on this team as its rebuild continues.
It was interesting to note that both John Bowman and Luc Brodeur-Jourdain suggested post-game that perhaps they were not quite ready for their Hall of Fame careers to head off into the sunset. It may have been the high of this last-minute win in their system talking, but they may have been a bit in their feelings and wondering if maybe they had enough in them for one more go-around.
We’ll see as the team cleans out their lockers and the reality of the off-season sets in whether that feeling still remains in these warriors.
As stated earlier, with the win at Tim Hortons Field yesterday this team finishes with a 5-13 record; a better mark than this time last year. A true optimist will say that this means that this team is on the right track and that it can only get better once training camp opens in 2019.
I can’t say for certain that I would be willing to go along with that thought process as the overall aftermath of this season is still fresh in my mind. There have certainly been improvements but as I’ve stated before, numbers don’t lie. And the numbers remain 8-28 for this current regime. For a team and a city that is desperate for a winner, these numbers shouldn’t be acceptable by any stretch.
Alouettes ownership still owes it to this team’s fanbase to do some serious soul-searching and determine whether they really have the right pieces in place for long-term success or not.
The off-season is now underway. There’s a LOT to get sorted out before this team takes the field again. Most notably is the expiring collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and its players’ association. Many players are eligible for free agency but perhaps may not want to tread too far until they know what lies ahead in terms of this league’s future. Some players are locked in for 2019 and beyond but many others aren’t and the wonder about whether their playing future is here in Montreal or elsewhere is a major sticking point.
We’ll look more into what to potentially expect from the Alouettes in the offseason in future editions of The ALSternative. There are changes on the way and only time will tell what will come ahead. But fans should be very encouraged by what they saw from their team yesterday. There’s a lot of potential here for the future of this team; now it’s just a matter of who all will be here to be a part of that future.
This has been a tumultuous season to cover, but I am truly thankful to be able to share the trials and tribulations of this team with you all. There have been plenty of highlights and lowlights and everything in between. Safe to say that a lot has changed since from that first training camp session in late May and there has been a LOT of unexpected twists and turns as this season trudged on.
It’s been quite the ride and yes, a part of me is a bit sad that it’s now over. But I am also relieved that this team can put this season to bed and start getting ready for 2019, which will usher in a new look for the Alouettes in terms of their identity. There’s a lot to be excited about, but we’ll have to wait and see what else comes as the winter months approach.
We’ll still be checking in here at The ALSternative as big news breaks for the Montreal Alouettes to offer up thoughts and analysis as needed during the off-season. But for now, the Grey Cup playoffs start next week and the league is getting ready to throw a major party in Edmonton at the end of the month.
The Alouettes’ season is over, but there’s still LOTS of football left in 2018. Once again, I thank you all for reading and joining me on this ride.
So for once more in 2018 and for always…..