Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and a chance for us all to think about what we are grateful for. It’s also a chance to enjoy some football, as the holiday and this sport go hand-in-hand perfectly.
The city of Montreal has always felt this sentiment and for many years hosted a football game every Thanksgiving Monday at Percival Molson Stadium. That tradition came to a halt in 2019 due to inept team management not realizing/appreciating said tradition and stayed dormant in 2020 with the cancelled CFL season. The league ensured that Montrealers would get their annual game back in 2021 and the 15,000+ that were in attendance Monday afternoon were given their money’s worth.
The Montreal Alouettes came away with a 20-16 win over the Ottawa RedBlacks that once again featured last-minute heroics from the Birds of Prey. Calling this one a defensive battle would be putting it mildly as a touchdown was scored in the first and fourth quarter with only field goals and safeties in between. The win moves Montreal to 4-4 and second place in the Eastern division while Ottawa falls to 2-6 to remain in the divsion’s basement with hopes of a playoff berth fading fast.
The win is Montreal’s second in a row and their first home win of 2021. It is also the Alouettes’ first home victory versus Ottawa since 2014, if you can believe that! The Alouettes started and finished this game hot as a pistol, but the in-between had every possibility to sink them. Your heart may not be able to handle these Cardiac Kids, but when they come alive it makes for some thrilling football.
After Ottawa started the game with a quick two-and-out that saw starting QB Caleb Evans get twice manhandled to the ground, the Alouettes went right to work. Vernon Adams started slinging the ball downfield and three plays later, found a wide-open Jake Wieneke for the game’s first touchdown. After that, things cooled down immensely and this game got very defense-heavy.
The first half ended with Ottawa leading 8-7 thanks to a pair of Lewis Ward field goals and a conceded safety by Alouettes punter Joseph Zema. If the RedBlacks were hoping to put the Alouettes to sleep with this style of play, it looked as though it was working. A far cry from the game in Ottawa a few weeks ago where the Alouettes put up several points while Ottawa was chasing its own tail.
The second half saw things open up a bit more as Als kicker David Cote was able to notch a field goal and Najee Murray picked off a wobbly pass from Caleb Evans, setting up for another Alouettes field goal. Evans was able to settle down and momentum shifted back to the RedBlacks, as they managed to march down the field and allow Lewis Ward to score more field goals. Ottawa took a 16-13 lead all the way to the three minute warning as Montreal desperately needed something to go their way.
Vernon Adams started a drive downfield but ended up taking a tackle by Avery Ellis at his own 40 yard line, staying on the ground after the play was finished. Adams eventually left the field favouring his arm and with a considerable amount of pain etched on his face. This led to backup QB Matthew Shiltz coming into the game to not only get a first down to move the chains, but to also finish the game.
Shiltz came in relief of Adams last week versus Hamilton when Vernon suffered an ankle injuy. He did an admirable job in relief but gave way back to Adams in the second half. This time, Shiltz was not going anywhere and the Alouettes needed to make something happen in order to try and win this game. Having gotten a taste of action finally, Shiltz knew he had to make his own magic happen.
He connected with Kaion Julien-Grant for a first down. He leaned on running back Cameron Artis-Payne (who was playing in place of the injured William Stanback) to help gain yardage. Shiltz then found a streaking B.J. Cunningham for a nice little catch and run. Shiltz was a perfect three for three in passing on this drive as Alouettes Nation got very excited at the work this young veteran was doing.
Matt then took it upon himself to scamper 17 yards and put the Alouettes in a first and goal situation as the RedBlacks were reeling from this offensive flurry. Shiltz then handed off to Artis-Payne who rumbled seven yards in for the go-ahead touchdown and Percival Molson Stadium erupted in excitement. It looked as though Cameron was down at the one-yard line but the replay saw the football break the plane of the end zone before he was down. The touchdown stood and the Montreal Alouettes were 0:20 away from their first home victory since October 18, 2019.
Starting at their own 21 yard line and with the crowd at an ear-splitting level of noise, all that Ottawa’s rookie QB could do was throw a triumvirate of incomplete passes as time ran out. The Alouettes hung on for a needed but what could very well be a very costly victory.
This game is the very embodiment of the saying “Next Man Up” and showcased the importance of your roster’s depth. As stated earlier, William Stanback was unable to go, so Cameron Artis-Payne was summoned to duty and he made quite the debut. Cameron turned in a strong outing with 112 yards rushing on 21 carries plus his first CFL rushing touchdown. He also caught 4 passes as well, ensuring that whoever was throwing the ball had another reliable target to go to.
And of course, with Vernon Adams being knocked out of the game at a crucial moment, most other teams would have just given up and called it a day. But Matt Shiltz has always stayed ready and even when his previous opportunities didn’t yield the rewards that it did today, he never gave up on himself. Today was his way of showing everyone that while VA is the star of the show here in Montreal, Shiltzy can still get it done if need be.
The moment was not too big for this young man and he passed this test with flying colours. As Adams was sent to the hospital after the game, many are wondering what will happen should VA be out long-term with this injury. I think after today’s showing, Matthew Shiltz proved that he can handle himself accordingly and win when it matters. It was a small sample size, but Matt looked like a true leader and this team responded to him under centre.
Adams has taken some incredible punishment injury-wise over the past few weeks and always seems to bounce back. With Montreal and Ottawa facing off again this coming Saturday, perhaps it would be best to have Adams sit even if his latest injury turns out to not be as severe as it looked. In the the past three weeks, Vernon has had his ribs, ankle, head and now arm attacked. As tough as we know he is and how badly he wants to win, Vernon may need to be saved from himself and be 100% certain that he is at full health. Especially as a Grey Cup playoff spot is very much in play for the Montreal Alouettes.
As this week progresses and we learn more about the health status of Big Play VA, the Alouettes know that they have very capable Plan Bs in their lineup. This will be their time to shine.
That’s all for now. It’s a short week and it’s back to TD Place as the Alouettes and RedBlacks face off for Round Three of their four game season series. A Montreal win won’t automatically eliminate Ottawa from playoff contention but with the Western teams starting to come alive, that crossover spot is very much a factor.
The Alouettes manhandled the RedBlacks earlier this year and will want a repeat performance if only to show that they are not to be taken lightly by anyone. The RedBlacks got their first win at TD Place in 11 attempts last week and will want to start their own winning streak in the nation’s capital while ending Montreal’s at the same time.
Be sure to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself go over this home and home series. You can find the podcast here, on Youtube and on your favourite podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.
Enjoy this huge win, Alouettes Nation. But already, it’s on to the next one. Thanks for reading, as always.