It was so close, Alouettes Nation. So, so close.
All the Montreal Alouettes had to do was hang on for the win and they’d punch their ticket to the Grey Cup playoffs. But fate is a cruel mistress who unfortunately travels well; in this case, all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia
The Alouettes’ misfortunes at BC Place continued this past Saturday as they lost a gut-punch of a game to the BC Lions by a 25-23 score. With both Toronto and Ottawa losing, the Alouettes could have secured themselves a spot in the 2019 playoffs. Instead, they now sit at 7-6 and will have to wait another day to get that berth.
The BC Lions extend their winning streak to three consecutive games and keep alive their faint playoff hopes. For those who said that the Lions’ winning streak held little weight due winning back-to-back tilts with the RedBlacks, this win against a strong opponent will silence the Lions’ critics for the time being.
Due to a number of circumstances, CFL pundits had this match as up for grabs to either team. But I am sure no one could have predicted the ending that did come forth.
The Alouettes sent out third year quarterback Matthew Shiltz to get the win in place of Vernon Adams Jr., who was serving his one game suspension. How did the youngster Shiltz fare in his first CFL start since November 2017? As it turns out, he did quite well under these extraordinary circumstances.
Shiltz went 10 of 19 with 177 passing yards and throwing his first touchdown of 2019 to Eugene Lewis. Where Matt shined was on the ground, as he rushed for 62 yards and even managed to score a TD on the ground. He did throw an interception but for the most part, Shiltz looked comfortable under centre for the Alouettes. He spread the ball around and got the ground game going in a very positive manner.
After a couple of quiet games on the stats sheet, William Stanback was able to get back to the form that made CFL people sit up and take notice. He ran for 147 yards on 14 carries and looked spectacular. Jeremiah Johnson also got out of the backfield and contributed 26 rushing yards of his own. But when it came to running plays, it was Matt Shiltz who caught everyone by surprise with his ability to scramble out of the pocket and move the chains.
His mobility also helped set backup QB Antonio Pipkin up to plunge in for a TD score due in part to an incredible draw play that caught the entire BC defense napping. Based on his limited reps, a lot of people assumed that Shiltz would be a one-dimensional QB that was going to have a hard time keeping Vernon Adams’ seat warm.
Despite this loss (which only an idiot would blame Shiltz for), a lot of eyes have been opened and this young man proved that he can play quarterback in the Canadian Football League.
Holy Shiltz, indeed.
Despite the efforts of Shiltz and his teammates, the Lions were able to counter-punch Montreal’s offense and they exposed the defense on numerous occasions. Mike Reilly played his usual outstanding self, going 30 for 34 and throwing 309 passing yards. He also took his lumps as he often does, being sacked twice and coughing up an interception early on. But Reilly was determined not to let BC’s fans down after a 1-10 start to this season.
Reilly found Bryan Burnham for a TD and also got tailback John White in the game, as he racked up 78 yards on 14 carries as well as a rushing touchdown. Reilly was the epitome of calm, cool and collected as he got his receivers in sync and the Alouettes defense simply had no way to properly contain them.
This game had it everything you needed to be an exciting tilt. It was in the fourth quarter where a series of incredible events led to the Lions snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The “cardiac kids” ended up being put to bed, much to the dismay of Alouettes fans who stayed up late to watch this game.
With 2:59 left on the game clock, the Lions were up 25-23 and looking to extend the lead with a field goal attempt. However, a great catch by former Alouette Duron Carter went for naught as he mockingly stood over the felled body of defender Ryan Carter (no relation) in a show of dominance. This led to the refs tossing a penalty flag Duron’s way for taunting that cost BC some valuable field position. Lions kicker Sergio Castillo (who to this point was a perfect 4 for 4 in field goal attempts) lined up to now attempt a 50 yard field goal to extend the lead by five.
Castillo kicked the ball with gusto but it nailed the outstretched hand of Alouettes defensive lineman Fabion Foote, allowing Montreal to recover the ball with 1:48 left on the clock. Shiltz and company went to work, using the workhorse Stanback to gain some major yardage on the ground. I
n fact, it looked like Will was going to score a touchdown far too early, leaving time on the clock for Reilly to make a comeback. Stanback managed to get the Alouettes to BC’s two yard line with some hard-nosed rushing. It was now third and one with just over a minute to go.
Alouettes head coach Khari Jones now had a decision to make; do you kick the field goal to go up by one point and trust your defense to stop the Lions? Or do you plunge ahead for first and goal (or possibly a touchdown!), essentially forcing BC to respond in kind?
Jones elected to go for the TD and sent Antonio Pipkin out to plunge ahead like he had done earlier in the game. Nine times out of ten, this is a mere formality with quarterbacks and most will perform this task without a second thought.
Sadly for Montreal’s fans, this happened to be time #10.
Pipkin miscalculated the snap, losing the ball in the process. Eugene Lewis scooped up the ball quickly to try and run it in, but was wrapped up by a BC defender. As he went down, DeVier Posey then tried to take the ball from the falling Lewis and pushed for the end zone (or at least the one yard line to get a fresh set of downs). Despite the best efforts of all these men, they were just short.
As a result, the Alouettes turn the ball over on downs. Mike Reilly comes in, get a first down to ice this game for the Lions and send the Alouettes back east with a football sized knot in their stomachs.
No doubt the remainder of the week will have everyone wondering why Khari Jones didn’t go for the field and take the easy points to lead the game by 1. Here’s why Khari was right to do what he did.
Had he taken the points from a successful field goal, Mike Reilly and the Lions then would have started on their own 35 yard line and have at least one minute left to get into field goal range. Jones had to know that his defense probably wasn’t able to stop Reilly if given the chance.
Had the Alouettes scored the touchdown (or at least get the first down and ate up more game clock), they would have given the Lions no choice but to respond with a touchdown of their own with minimal time remaining. Considering Reilly only made four incompletions throughout the evening, there stood a great chance for the grizzled veteran to march his team into at least field goal range to get the win.
Going for the TD was a calculated gamble on the part of Coach Khari that didn’t pay off. The one who unfortunately has to wear the goat’s horns on this gaffe is Pipkin, who didn’t play the ball properly and caused the fumble.
What makes this a really bitter pill for Alouettes fans to swallow was Pipkin’s earlier success in the game when it came to short yardage play. Not only did he score a goal line touchdown earlier but on another third down attempt, he pushed forward and gained several yards when only one was needed for the first down. There was no reason to believe that Antonio couldn’t do this again to help his team win this game.
Pipkin had refused to speak with the media post-game; another bad look among many for the young pivot this season. However, Antonio did take to Twitter later on Sunday to indeed take responsibility for his actions:
In the Alouettes’ previous losses, Vernon Adams would take responsibility for his shortcomings and never shied away from the pressure of dealing with the media. Shiltz has also owned up and taken ownership when he made errors. We need to remind ourselves that these quarterbacks are still young men that are all under the age of 27; they are going to make costly mistakes from time to time.
It’s how they respond to these errors that will make all the difference in their growth and subsequently, this football team’s success.
So now the Alouettes come back home to prepare for the Calgary Stampeders, who will have the thrilling double OT game from earlier this summer on their minds. This time around, the Alouettes will have to contend with Bo Levi Mitchell, who has not missed a beat since returning from injury on Labour Day. Mitchell has only tasted victory once at Percival Molson Stadium and he’s likely excited at the possibility of keeping the Alouettes from clinching a playoff berth in front of their rabid fanbase.
But the Alouettes will have Vernon Adams back in the lineup and as long as he’s playing, Montreal has more than a fighting chance. He’s 2-0 lifetime as a starter against Calgary but has never faced the likes of Bo Levi in a pivotal game like this. Adams will be raring to go and I know it will make for an exciting Saturday afternoon on the mountain. As always, we’ll talk more about this game later in the week on The ALSternative.
You can also tune into the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself break down this tough loss in BC plus preview the home game versus the Stamps. You can download every episode of the podcast by clicking here or by searching Alouettes Flightdeck on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher or Spotify.
Don’t give up on this team, Alouettes Nation. There is still a lot of talent here and it is coming together. This team is going to host a playoff game in November; they just have to make it official. Hopefully you fans will come out and fill Percival Molson Stadium again this Saturday afternoon.
As you saw against Winnipeg two weeks ago, this team plays its best football when the stands are packed with loud, noisy fans. Calgary typically treats this game like a paid vacation; let’s see if they are ready to play this particular Alouettes team in their house.
We’re on to the next one. As always, thanks for reading.
GO ALS GO!!!