All good things come to an end, but I ask of you good people, does it have to end in such a disheartening way? This was a painful loss to swallow. Not totally a surprise, but it still hurts. Unlike the past couple of season the Alouettes were not one of the favourites to win the Grey Cup as the playoffs began. And even the most diehard of fans would have to admit the Als team that went into the playoffs was not as strong as years past.
The season started off per usual for the team as they mowed down their opponents. Then the injury bug hit and hit strong. Players like linebacker Shea Emery (concussion/stomach flu), wide receiver Kerry Watkins (sinus surgery/broken leg), corner Mark Estelle (torn MCL and ACL in left knee), corner Dwight Anderson (torn quad), safety Etienne Boulay (concussion), tackle Josh Bourke (torn pectoral muscle), and defensive back Jerald Brown (fractured ankle) were injured for big chunks of the 2011 CFL season. The Alouettes defense was especially ravaged. Going into the Eastern Semi-final they had five starters on defense out of the line-up with linebacker Ramon Guzman being the latest addition. They finished the season 10-8 and in second place in the East behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
By virtue of finishing second they were the hosts for the Eastern Semis. The Hamilton Tiger Cats were the opposition. Both teams stumbled into the playoffs with Montreal losing their last three games. Hamilton was 3-7 over its last 10 games. It was a hard game to make predictions about due to both teams’ uneven play this season. Montreal was the favourites, but no one would have been surprised if Hamilton was to come in and steal a victory. And that is exactly what they did.
The game played in front of 33,051 spectators at the Olympic Stadium, which featured plenty of offense and very little defense, went into overtime with Hamilton coming out with a 52-44 victory. It was a back and forth game with a feeling of whichever team had the ball last would win. Montreal lost because they could not stop the Tiger Cats…ever! Their defense seemed clueless about how to stop quarterback Kevin Glenn and the rest of the Cats offense. Montreal’s defensive line could get no pressure on Glenn, so he found himself with plenty of time to find his receivers. Despite his up and down performance this season, no matter who the quarterback is if you give them loads of time he will find an open receiver. Glenn ended the game going 23 for 32 for 275 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Montreal offense cannot be blamed for the loss as when you notch 44 points in a football game you should win. Quarterback Anthony Calvillo did everything he could to lead his team to a victory. Calvillo went 30 for 42 for 537 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once and fumbled once. Unfortunately those turnovers led to 10 Hamilton points. Even though they scored 44 points it wasn’t easy for Calvillo as he found himself rushed, hit or sacked (especially in the 1st half) on the majority of plays. His team played catch up most of the game and he did manage to bring them all the way back courtesy of a 44 yard catch and run play to receiver S.J. Green at 13:23 of the 4th quarter.
The final quarter was the craziest with 38 points being tallied in the last 15 minutes. With the score tied at 44-44 with just seconds remaining on the game clock Hamilton kicker Justin Medlock choked on a 52 yard (in his defense it was not exactly a chip shot) field goal attempt when he pushed it wide right. His attempt was made more difficult (i.e. longer) when on the play before Hamilton took a time count violation penalty that pushed Medlock back 5 yards.
In overtime Hamilton had the ball first. Each team begins overtime from the opposition’s 35 yard line and you have to match and or beat what the other team has done or the game is over. They moved the ball down to the Montreal 2 yard line. Back up quarterback Quinton Porter came in to the game and he kept the ball on a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. It was his second touchdown of the game. Then on the next play he connected with Chris Williams for a two point convert to put Hamilton up 52-44. Montreal would have to score an equal 8 points on their attempt or the game would be over. On a 3rd down play, Calvillo tried a short pass to back Brandon Whitaker, but the ball glanced off his hands and hit the turf. Game over and victory Hamilton.
The defense gave up big plays to Avon Cobourne (46 yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter), Bakari Grant and Chris Williams. Yes, they had plenty of injuries, but you cannot use that as an excuse when you are a team. Though you must make allowances for back up players who were prematurely thrust into starting spots. The offense, including Calvillo, Jamel Richardson, Green, Eric Deslauriers, and Brandon London, played well enough to win on most days. As a team they showed fight, especially in the late going, coming back from being down and matching Hamilton touchdown for touchdown over the last quarter.
For the first time in a couple of season a new champion will be crowned in the CFL. This was Montreal’s first Eastern Semi-finals loss in six seasons. All good things come to an end. For Montreal fans there is always next year. For this proud organization maybe this was just the wake call they needed to right what is wrong with the team. Here’s to hoping that both Calvillo and coach Mark Trestman will be back next season on the team’s quest to regain the Grey Cup in what will be the CFL’s 100th season.