Montreal Alouettes vs. Toronto Argonauts @ Rogers Centre – September 3, 2013

At the midway point of the CFL season this game between Eastern Division rivals was to the battle of the back-up quarterbacks.  The Alouettes were without their longtime veteran QB Anthony Calvillo due to a concussion and will be for the rest of the regular season as he was placed yesterday on the 9 game injury list.  A young 23-year-old Tanner Marsh, who came into the season as the number 3 quarterback, would be making his first start in the CFL.  He had come off the bench to lead his team to a comeback victory against the B.C. Lions last week, so he had head coach Jim Popp’s confidence going into this important match up against the East’s first placed Argos.  I was interested to see how offensive coordinator Doug Berry would deal with working with such an untested rookie.

The Argos would also be going into the game with a rookie at the helm.  Veteran QB Ricky Ray injured his shoulder in their previous game and is set to miss at least another month of action.  Zach Collaros, a 25-year-old, made his 2nd career start.  There wasn’t a lot of experience on either side in regards to the quarterback position, so it was going to be interesting to see how they would each handle the pressure of a big game.

Montreal has had a miserable start to the season with their 2-5 record.  This kind of poor play is not something that Als’ fans have been used to over the past decade.  It was probably good for the team and especially for Tanner Marsh that they were playing this game on the road.  It lessened the pressure of entertaining the hometown fans.  The Alouettes definitely had a game plan going in and that was to rely on their defense, which although they are the team in the CFL that has given up the most points this season has been strong, and the defense did not let them down.  Other than the very beginning of the game they were dominant and only allowed a total of 9 points.  You are not going to lose very many games if your defense only gives up a touchdown and 2 singles.

On this rare Tuesday night game in the CFL on the day after Labour Day the stadium roof was open at the Rogers Centre and it was a nice night for football.  Things did not start off very well for the visitors as the Argonauts, aided by a few Montreal penalties, marched down the field and set up kicker Noel Prefontaine with a 43 yard field goal attempt.  The veteran kicker has normally been pretty much a sure thing throughout his 17 seasons in the CFL, but he was wide left on this occasion.  It went through the end zone, however, for a single and gave Toronto the 1-0 lead at the 12:21 mark of the 1st quarter.

Things did not get any better for the Toronto kick team on their next attempt.  After Montreal going 3 and out Toronto had another go at getting more points on the board.  Toronto got the ball to the Montreal 11 yard line and set Prefontaine up for what was basically a chip shot field goal at the 9:03 mark.  This time it wasn’t Prefontaine who missed rather back up QB Trevor Harris who fumbled with the placement and was forced to pick it up and run with it.  He only made it to the 3 yard line before he was tackled by Billy Parker.  Toronto turned over the ball on downs and came away with no points.

At 4:59 the Argos were able to put some points on the board in the form of a 34 yard touchdown pass to a wide open John Chiles.  It was now 8-0 Toronto.  Montreal was not really able to get anything going offensively in the 1st quarter as Marsh was under constant pressure from the Argonauts defensive line.  The Texas gunslinger, who played his college ball at Arkansas Tech, was often scrambling for his life.  The best opportunity they had to score was when Marsh hooked up with SJ Green on a 55 yard catch and run play only to have the ball punched out by an alert Jamie Robinson and recovered by Ricardo Colclough on the Toronto 16 yard line with 2:52 left in the 1st quarter.

Despite the fact that they did not score any points Marsh was showing some chemistry with a couple of his receivers.  On was SJ Green, who had his 5th game of 100+ receiving yards this season, while the other was rookie Duron Carter, son of longtime NFL receiver and newly inducted Hall of Fame member Cris Carter.  Carter made a couple of good catches and caught my attention.  Jim Popp seems high on this guy saying that he has great potential.

Montreal has had a ton of injuries to key players this season and has had to play through it.  This game they were happy to have veterans Josh Bourke and running back Brandon Whitaker in the line-up.  Whitaker is an important cog in the machine as he runs well, has good hands out of the backfield and is an excellent blocker.

The Alouettes took over the game in the 2nd quarter scoring 17 unanswered points.  An interesting thing happened at the beginning of the 2nd quarter in that recently signed quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith came out onto the field for one play.  The 3rd string quarterback is recently signed and brought onto the team to learn the CFL game this season.  On this first offensive series of the 2nd quarter Montreal got on the board courtesy of a 12 yard Sean Whyte field goal at the 11:23 mark.  8-3 Toronto.

In the 2nd quarter Argos’ quarterback Collaros had to go out for a series after being sacked from behind by linebacker Chip Cox.  Cox was penalized for a head tackle on the play and Collaros seemed to have injured his non-throwing left shoulder.  He was back in the game quickly, though.

This was a game filled with penalties with rarely a play going off that did not have a flag thrown.  Toronto helped Montreal by getting a penalty by Jalil Carter (illegal contact on a receiver) when they had Montreal stopped.  Montreal’s extended offensive drive ended in a Marsh to Arlan Bruce III 28 yard touchdown pass.  Demonstrating his gunslinger mentality, Marsh put the ball in a small window over the middle taking a hit just as he threw the ball.  This was Bruce’s first TD as a Montreal Alouettes, but his 90th career regular season TD putting him in 4th place overall in the CFL.  The score was now 10-8 Montreal at 5:59 of the 2nd quarter.

Montreal scored another touchdown this time with 1:29 left before half.  This time it was the defense that pitched in.  With Kyries Hebert out with an injury Marc-Olivier Brouillette, a former QB for Université de Montreal Carabins, has been inserted into the starting line-up and has played well.  He sacked Collaros causing a fumble which linebacker Shea Emery scooped up and rumbled 37 yards into the endzone making the score 17-8 Montreal going into the halftime break.  Montreal leads the league with 3 fumble returns for touchdowns.  Due to his strong game with 2 sacks and 6 tackles Brouillette was named the Canadian Player of the Week in the CFL.

In the remaining half it was more like a hockey or soccer game with Montreal only managing 3 more points via a Whyte 13 yard field goal in the 4th quarter while Toronto only got a single point via a Prefontaine 68 yard punt that went into the Montreal end zone.  Montreal was smart and even after Whitaker left the game with what seemed to be a right hamstring injury they used back up running back Jerome Messam to run down the clock.  Late in the 4th quarter Messam was integral on a drive that ate up 4:16 of the clock.

Tanner Marsh had his first career victory as a starter.  It was in no way an offensive masterpiece of a game.  Marsh was better taking care of the ball this week after throwing 4 interceptions last week he only had 1 this week.  It was his second game in a row with over 300 yards passing.  Turnovers killed Toronto as they committed 4.

After a miserable start Montreal, with the victory, has moved itself to within 1 game of 1st place in the East.  There are a lot of question marks hanging over the Eastern Division.  This, the first of back-to-back games in less than a week, was the second meeting of the season between the two teams with the first one seeing Toronto crushing Montreal 38-13 in week 7.  This was a totally different game with Montreal only scoring one more touchdown, but the defense not being on the field as much and as such able to contain the Toronto attack.  Though it wasn’t a blowout on the scoreboard Montreal did dominate this game pretty much throughout.

Game Stats:

-Passing:

MTL Passing

Name  Comp   Att       Yards   TD        Int

MARSH, T        18        27        309      1          1

TOR Passing

Name  Comp   Att       Yards   TD        Int

COLLAROS, Z   21        32        256      1          1

HARRIS, T        0          1          0          0          0

-Rushing:

MTL Rushing

Name               No       Yards   Lg        TD

MESSAM, J      10        61        29        0

WHITAKER, B  13        59        20        0

MARSH, T        4          19        13        0

BRUCE, A         3          5          4          0

TOR Rushing

Name              No        Yards   Lg        TD

COLLAROS, Z   7          25        13        0

OWENS, C       2          15        18        0

HARRIS, T        1          10        10        0

STEELE, C        6          8          3          0

-Box Score:

1          2          3          4          –           F

Montreal         0          17        0          3                      20

Toronto           8          0          0          1                      9

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