It’s been over 24 hours and I still cannot fully comprehend what was seen this past Saturday.
Call it sheer will or dumb luck, but the Montreal Alouettes did something that hasn’t been done since November 2018; make the Hamilton Tiger-Cats taste defeat at Tim Hortons Field. Coincidentally enough, it was also the Montreal Alouettes who accomplished that very task.
It took overtime to do it but the Alouettes escaped the Hammer with a 23-20 win, snapping another two-game losing skid. Montreal now sits at 3-4 on the season and will enjoy a few extra days of rest before hosting the Ottawa RedBlacks on (Canadian) Thanksgiving Monday. After losing a heartbreaker in Toronto the week before and making a personnel change at defensive line coach, the Alouettes needed this win in the worst way.
There was some early drama when Alouettes QB Vernon Adams got his ankle rolled up on by Hamilton’s Julian Howsare, forcing the enigmatic pivot to the sidelines. In came backup Matthew Shiltz who simply had to keep the Alouettes’ heads above water. To say the first half was a defensive battle may be extremely kind, as both teams struggled to put points on the board and went to the half with only field goals to their names.
In an odd twist of fate, the second half saw Adams return under centre despite the team announcing to the media earlier that he was out for the game. There was certainly a lot of curiosity behind this move, as Shiltz seemed to have things under control and a mobile QB like Adams surely couldn’t move like he normally does with an injured ankle. But the Alouettes were going to live and die by their starting quarterback in the ultimate risk/reward scenario.
After the Tiger-Cats’ Sean Thomas-Erlington scored a fluky touchdown (with a successful two-point convert), Adams took the field down 17-3. He engineered a nice drive downfield only to throw an errant interception to Hamilton’s Cariel Brooks, who was all alone and all too willing to accept a gift like this. We’ve seen this move far too many times from Vernon Adams; a brilliant drive snuffed out by a back-breaking and completely unnecessary interception.
But as the fourth quarter got underway, Adams was not going to be denied. A turnover forced by the Alouettes’ Woody Baron set up a quick pass and catch touchdown from VA to Jake Wieneke, his sixth of the season. Now down by 7, the Alouettes needed to keep the pressure on Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli, who was making his return after a few weeks off due to injury along with Bralon Addision and the always dangerous Brandon Banks.
After the Als forced a quick two and out and added another David Cote field goal to the scoreboard, Hamilton was once again stymied by the Montreal defense and forced to punt away the ball again. As Montreal whittled down the clock, they inched closer and closer to the end zone. And once again, Vernon Adams made a crucial error in judgment that led to an interception.
This time, it was former Alouette Ciante Evans who came up with what could have and maybe should have been the final nail in the coffin as 2:16 remained on the clock and Hamilton was up by 4 points. But true to themselves, this Alouettes team doesn’t seem to go down without a fight.
Once again, this incredible Montreal defense forces a quick two and out and sets up Vernon for another kick at the can. Adams drives this team downfield again with the help of Eugene Lewis making an incredible catch on third down to move the chains. But an incomplete pass to William Stanback and a monster sack of Adams by Hamilton’s Tunde Adeleke made the next play 3rd down and 20 with :49 left on the clock. With the game and his reputation on the line, Vernon Adams needed a miracle in the worst possible way.
So he threw up a prayer towards the end zone. And in what could only be considered divine intervention, Eugene Lewis somehow came down with the ball in the end zone despite double coverage from Hamilton. The Alouettes reclaimed the lead of this wild football game and you could hear a pin drop inside of Tim Hortons Field as all 18,000 spectators had to wonder what the heck they just witnessed. That touchdown sequence alone would have been the kind of storybook ending that Hollywood movies are made from and custom-made for Alouettes Nation to have a feel-good moment like no other.
Yet as they say in those late-night TV informericials, “But wait, there’s more!“
With :19 seconds left on the clock and down by three, Jeremiah Masoli was not going to let the Tabbies simply lie down and die. He worked the clock perfectly and with literally a pair of seconds left on the game clock, set forth a seemingly impossible task for rookie kicker Taylor Bertolet; score a game-tying 55 yard field goal going INTO the wind.
Wouldn’t you know it, the booted ball just BARELY sailed past the uprights and this game was heading into overtime. You want to talk about an absolutely BONKERS Canadian Football League game?? This. Was. It.
The Tiger-Cats started overtime with the ball. And it was then that the football gods decided that Hamilton’s successful run at Tim Hortons Field had to end. Sean Thomas-Erlington coughed up the football into the arms of Montreal’s Chris Ackie, stopping Hamilton dead in their tracks. It was almost anti-climatic as David Cote waltzed onto the field and coolly kicked the biggest field goal of his young CFL career, helping the Alouettes win an absolute barnburner of a game.
The Montreal Alouettes had absolutely no business winning this game the way they did. During the game, I felt they did an absolute disservice to Matthew Shiltz by letting an injured Vernon Adams make the mistakes he did. That should have sunk this team, like what happened versus Calgary and Toronto earlier this year. But it’s obvious that Vernon needed to prove to himself that he can overcome the obstacles thrown in front of him and he became richer for the experience.
I’ve been critical of some of Adams’ decision-making this year, but I will never criticize the heart he has and what he brings on game day. Vernon puts this team on his back every single game. His teammates want to play for him and will follow him to the bitter end. CFL pundits have stated time and time again that this Alouettes team lives and dies by Vernon Adams. While it can be challenging not knowing which version of VA will show up on game day, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze when it comes to this budding superstar.
I’ve compared Vernon’s career trajectory to CFL Hall of Famer Henry Burris in the past. When Smilin’ Hank was on, he was ON and was a bonafide winner. Vernon Adams is proving to be very much of that same style. It can take years off your life as a fan, but if “Big Play VA” can string together a career like what Burris did, then there will be a few more Grey Cup banners flying at Percival Molson Stadium and perhaps no one else will ever wear the #8 again in the 514.
All we can hope is that Adams can finally unlock the formula to winning consecutive games again. He’s done it in the past for the Alouettes and if he can start doing it again, then all of these questionable decisions and subsequent losses will become a distant memory.
That’s all for now. The Alouettes won’t see game action for the next week, as they prepare to face the Ottawa RedBlacks at home next Thanksgiving Monday. While Montreal easily handled the RedBlacks earlier this season, they cannot afford to take this team lightly by any stretch. Ottawa shocked the world by handily beating Edmonton at home and will be looking to extend the Alouettes’ losing streak at Percival Molson Stadium as well as their own personal winning streak in Montreal.
Be sure to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself recap this incredible win versus Hamiltom and preview the Thanksgiving Day tilt. You can find the podcast here and on your favourite podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and even on Youtube! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.
Enjoy this win, Alouettes Nation. Win or lose, it’s hard to say that this team doesn’t entertain the heck out of you. As always, thanks for reading.