A lot has happened in the Canadian Football League since the Montreal Alouettes beat the Calgary Stampeders on July 1st, 2009.
We’ve seen Ottawa return to the league and even win a Grey Cup. We’ve seen every CFL team appear at least once in the championship game. We’ve seen three commissioners in place to hand out the trophy. Numerous records have been shattered and thrilling games have been played that will never be deleted from one’s PVR or memory banks.
However, the one thing you could count on in that time was the Alouettes losing in their sole appearance at McMahon Stadium during the regular season. Be it a blowout or a tightly contested contest, this was a game that you could set your watch to in knowing the final outcome.
Yesterday, that all came to a screeching halt.
It took two mini games in overtime and some gutsy play before it, but the Montreal Alouettes walked out of Cowtown with a victory. They bested the Stampeders by a 40-34 score. Already people are calling this the game of the year and an instant CFL classic. After watching the highlights a number of times, I’m hard-pressed to disagree.
In my game preview, I called this a potential shootout in the Wild West. And thanks to a pair of bonafide gunslingers in Vernon Adams Jr. and Nick Arbuckle, this truly was a spirited affair.
Making his return to the Montreal lineup after being sidelined with a mild concussion, Adams put this team on his back and gutted out a tremendous game. He did throw a pair of interceptions early on, but his will to win would not be denied. Adams went 32 of 50 with 389 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns to Jake Wieneke and Eugene Lewis. He also rushed for 38 yards to keep the chains moving. Adams also plunged into the end zone to score both touchdowns in the two OT mini-games.
Arbuckle turned in a masterful perfomance in a losing effort, going 31 for 36 with 370 passing yards, FOUR touchdowns (all to Reggie Begelton!) and zero INTs. For a guy who was destined to be back on clipboard duty with the supposed return of Bo Levi Mitchell, Arbuckle was a wizard in leading this high-powered Stampeders team. You can pretty well bank on this youngster wearing new colours next season, as a couple of teams will need a quarterback (COUGH ottawa/toronto COUGH) and Nick has cemented his status as a starter in this league.
The play of both these teams was nothing short of spectacular. Both had a lot to prove going in and the fans were treated to a game that will not be soon forgotten.
It’s unfortunate that this match started off on the wrong foot. During the pre-game warmup, both teams got into a scuffle when former Stampeder Tommie Campbell and Wynton McManis were exchanging heated words at mid-field. This led to punches being thrown and the tone being set early that this was not going to be a friendly fight by any stretch.
The first half for the Alouettes was how it often has been for them with Adams under centre; a bit slow on offense with mistakes being made as he tries to figure the opponent out. Arbuckle was tested early by the Alouettes’ defense but showed no fear, scoring a touchdown and giving kicker Rene Paredes the chance to notch a pair of field goals.
The one thing about Vernon Adams that has been clear in all of his games this season is his ability to make adjustments at the half. I’ve called it “flipping the switch” as it feels as though Adams does just that and is able to take this Alouettes team in the positive direction in an instant. A few quick strikes and Adams found Wieneke for the go-ahead score in the third quarter.
However, Nick Arbuckle wasn’t just going to roll over. On two consecutive series, he heaved a deep bomb to Reggie Begelton to put the Stampeders up by 11 points. Both times, the secondary was scorched and it even cost the Alouettes the services of safety Taylor Loffler, who blew a tire on that second TD strike and left the game with a knee injury.
It was looking pretty bleak for the Alouettes as the three minute warning came and went. Many Calgary fans even headed for the exits, confident that the decade-long losing streak at McMahon Stadium would continue for the Alouettes. But what’s the rallying cry of this league and its fans? The slogan that they love to beat people over the head with ad nauseum? All together, now:
NO. LEAD. IS. SAFE.
With a 1:40 left on the clock and down by 11, Vernon Adams went to work. With some crisp passes to Wieneke, Lewis, Quan Bray and the returning DeVier Posey, Adams inched his way to the end zone. A roughing the passer call against Calgary got the Alouettes even closer to paydirt.
With 0:49 seconds left on the clock, Adams hit Lewis in stride for a touchdown. A successful two point convert followed suit and now the Alouettes were down by three points. But time was not their friend. They needed to successfully retrieve an onside kick to regain possession; something in football that is easier said than done.
Montreal’s special teams took a beating two weeks ago and slightly redeemed themselves last week in the weather-shortened tilt at home. Now their hands team had to make the biggest play of the season happen if they wanted this game to continue.
Boris Bede put the ball up in the air with his foot…..and who reached up for that ball in hopes to keep the party going for Montreal??
Why, the son of former NCAA basketball star Junie Lewis, Geno Lewis!! Those basketball genes were put to good use as Eugene leapt into the air to secure the jump ball, giving the Alouettes the chance to tie this game up and go into overtime.
Once again, Vernon Adams took over and once again, a roughing the passer penalty alongside of some timely passes set the table nicely for the Alouettes. A successful Bede field goal with :02 seconds left on the clock and that eleven point deficit was now reduced to ZERO.
Sixty minutes were not enough to settle this heavyweight contest. Overtime was needed to try and determine a winner.
True to form, both Arbuckle and Adams went toe-to-toe and got their teams into the end zone during their first mini-game. The rule in OT is that if you score a touchdown, you must go for the two point convert. Both QBs did and both came up short thanks to some stellar defense. On to the second game, deadlocked at 34.
In Mini-Game #2, Adams grinded away and got the Alouettes down to the one yard line, despite appearing to connect with Eugene Lewis in the end zone. A quick review from the CFL’s command centre in Toronto negated that scoring attempt so Adams decided to plunge in for six, as he did in the previous mini-game. Once again, the two point convert was denied but now Montreal led by six points.
It was now up to Arbuckle to score a touchdown for Calgary to at least tie the score or potentially even win the game with a successful two-point convert. It all came down to this next series.
On first and goal, Arbuckle was swallowed up by former Stampeder Patrick Levels, who notched a sack on the young Calgary QB earlier in the game. On second and goal, Arbuckle connected with Don Jackson for a short gain. This next play would decide the ball game.
On third and goal, Arbuckle heaved a pass skywards and superstar receiver Eric Rogers stretched out and caught the ball. Except his foot touched the white of the back of the end zone, ruling him out of bounds and thus the pass incomplete. Ball game over, right? Hold that thought!
Of course, all potential scoring plays are reviewed by that same command centre for the CFL. For what seemed like an eternity, they reviewed numerous angles to ensure that the correct call was actually made. Rogers did have a foot down in the end zone so if it was determined that foot touched before his other foot touched the white mark, this call would be overturned.
After what felt like hours (but in reality only a few minutes), the referees announced that the initial call stood as an incomplete pass and that this game was over. Montreal would be declared the winners of this hotly-contested affair, to the delight and chagrin of football fans everywhere.
Now that several hours have passed and upon multiple reviewing of the game and its various highlights, there’s a few things that need to be said:
– The CFL needs to get and stay consistent with its reviews. You can make the case for Rogers scoring the touchdown that would have tied this game. You can also make the case for Lewis scoring the touchdown in OT to put Montreal ahead. Without knowing exactly what goes on in the command centre for reviews and what the eye in the sky is looking for, the replay system will forever be flawed and subject to scrutiny.
The Arena Football League and the short-lived Alliance of American Football took viewers into the replay booth to show exactly what was being reviewed and discussed among the officials. While the results may or may not favour your team, you can at least know exactly what was seen or not seen in determining the rulings of a play.
– Regardless of the outcome, there’s no denying the heart and character of these two young quarterbacks. Both deserved to win this game and both proved that they are leaders. Vernon Adams and Nick Arbuckle cemented their status as stars in this league. Adams is not the second coming of Anthony Calvillo, but he’s given Alouettes Nation so much to cheer for in 2019. Arbuckle is not likely going to make the Stamps trade Bo Levi Mitchell, but he has proven that he can ball with the best of them. Don’t be surprised to see him in new colours in 2020.
– These are two terrific football teams that will give their all and provide you fans with the best bang for your entertainment buck. They will face off again on October 5th in Montreal and I cannot wait for Round Two of this battle.
That’s all for now. The Alouettes will now prepare for the next road game against the Toronto Argonauts. But this game won’t be played at Toronto’s BMO Field; this is the Touchdown Atlantic game being held in Moncton, New Brunswick.
It was six years ago that the Alouettes last played in the Maritimes and they will be looking to get a divisional win on neutral territory. This event is being put on by the Atlantic Schooners ownership group as part of the effort to get folks in the Maritimes excited for that franchise’s eventual arrival.
This is also the Alouettes’ Fan Plane game so if you have never seen a football game live in Moncton, this is your chance to experience this rare occurrence. Having been on the Fan Plane to Regina last season, I have no doubt that you will have a great time if you decide to join Alouettes Nation on this overnight trip. For more details, click on this link here.
Enjoy this win, Alouettes Nation. There’s no quit in these Alouettes and your faith in this team will not be in vain. They are as focused as ever and will never say die.
Once again, on to the next one. Thanks for reading.
GO ALS GO!!!
(Photo Credit: @CFL/Canadian Press)