Defense was the name of the game Sunday afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium which was fine by the Montreal Alouettes because even though this has not been a good season for them their defense has been stellar. Like Montreal, Saskatchewan was on a 3 game losing streak. More surprising for the Roughriders as they started the season white hot with an 8-1 record in their first 9 games. Saskatchewan has come down to earth of late and was looking to get back on a winning streak approaching the playoffs.
Good news for Montreal was that the Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Edmonton Eskimos both lost earlier this week. Montreal can still end up in 2nd place the East if they start winning some games.
It was a perfect day for football at 21 degrees Celsius and the wind at 10 km/h, so good that Montreal had their biggest crowd of the season with even Prime Minister Stephen Harper in attendance. With Saskatchewan winning the coin toss but deferring their choice Montreal received the ball first. Josh Neiswander was under center as the starting quarterback for Montreal with injuries to Anthony Calvillo (concussion) and Tanner Marsh (thumb). Neiswander has played against Saskatchewan, so he knows their defense a little. The Als started off with 2 running plays by Jerome Messam, who was starting in place of Brandon Whittaker. They got a 1st down with Messam and the Als’ offensive line getting off to a good start. Going in it was important that Montreal established a good running game in order to take some pressure off Neiswander. Unfortunately the running back could not continue his strong play throughout the game. On 12 rushes he only was able to gain 43 yards with 13 of those coming off one rush meaning over the remaining 11 he gained 30 averaging under 3 yards per carry. If the Alouettes make the playoffs and have any hope of going deep they are going to need better production from the big back.
On the Alouettes’ 2nd offensive series Neiswander hooked up with wide receiver Duron Carter on a 46 yard pass. This despite that Carter had to out jump the two Roughriders covering him. Over the past couple of games Carter has established himself as the go to guy and shown an aptitude for big plays.
Coming into the game Roughrider receiver Geroy Simon was 1 catch away from besting former Alouettes slotback Ben Cahoon for the most catches in the CFL. We did not have to wait long for him to break the record. At 5:28 of the 1st quarter Simon made his 1018 catch right in front of the Als’ Gerald Brown. It was not spectacular and wasn’t enough for a 1st down, but he still owns the record and will continue adding to it.
The turning point of the game in my opinion happened late in the 1st quarter and the beginning of the 2nd quarter. As this was going to be a defensive struggle it was of course the Montreal defense that made the play. After Roughriders’ quarterback Darian Durant had completed a 72 yard catch and run play to Chris Getzlaf to the Montreal 3 yard line, Montreal’s defense held firm. After being stopped on the first two running plays, Saskatchewan decided once again to keep the ball on the ground on 3rd and goal. Montreal was once again up to the challenge and stopped running back Chris Garrett short of the goal line and then added insult to injury when Kyries Hebert stripped him of the ball and Chip Cox was able to recover it on the 1 yard line. No points surrendered.
Apparently no one told these two teams that they were not playing a hockey game. After the 1st quarter the score was tied 1-1 and after the 2nd they had really racked up the points to make the score a scintillating 4-3 Montreal. Montreal’s offense other than the one long play to Carter had stalled. Neiswander seemed frustrated by the team’s lack of offense. Receiver Brandon London, who is having a rough season, was guilty of dropping a couple of balls thrown in his direction that he normally should have caught. Both defenses were playing well with Montreal getting a lot of pressure on Durant. John Bowman (8th sack), Shea Emry (4th sack) and rookie John Paxon (1st in the CFL) all got to the Roughriders’ quarterback. Montreal also held Saskatchewan to a mere 9 yards on the ground in the 1st half. A classic defensive struggle.
Back up quarter back Troy Smith came on the field at the beginning of the 3rd quarter for one offensive series. He completed his first pass in the CFL to Messam who went for a long catch and run. The play should have given the Alouettes a 1st and goal inside the Roughriders’ 10 yard line, but at the end of Messam’s rumble he was stripped of the ball on the 5 yard line and defensive back Eddie Russ recovered the ball in the end zone.
The first touchdown of the game came with 1:48 left in the 3rd quarter. It was courtesy of another great play by Carter. The 45 yard catch and run play showed all his potential – speed, good hands and running ability after the catch. It was also the 2nd game in row in which the 22-year-old rookie receiver had 100+ receiving yards. Going into the final quarter Montreal now had an 11-4 lead. Helping to preserve that lead Jerald Brown made an amazing interception of a Durant pass with less than a second remaining in the 3rd quarter. I’m sure Brown’s one handed catch will be a part of the CFL’s of end of year best plays reel.
At 11:55 in the 4th quarter the Roughriders scored a touchdown of their own making all Alouettes’ fans very nervous. The touchdown came on a 25 yard pass to a totally uncovered Weston Dressler. It was now 11-11.
Sean Whyte reestablished Montreal’s lead via two field goals in the 4th quarter. The field goals were of 40 and 19 yards. That made the final score 17-12. Whyte ended the game with 3 field goals and 1 single. Once again the Montreal defense was very stingy allowing the Roughriders only a single point the rest of the game. It was Durant’s second straight rough game against Montreal. An interception with 14.6 seconds left in the game in the end zone by Cox sealed the victory for Montreal.
Montreal’s record was now 5-8 and they find themselves only 2 points behind Hamilton for 2nd place in the East. The defense seems primed to take them far. Montreal, who leads the league with 35 coming into this game, created 4 turnovers (1 fumble, 3 interceptions) to help their cause. Neiswander took care of the ball with no fumbles or turnovers.
The Alouettes’ next game is in Edmonton against the woeful Eskimos on Saturday, October 5th. Their fate is in their own hands.
Name Comp Att Yards TD Int
NEISWANDER, J36 264 1 0
SMITH, T 1 54 0 0
Name Comp Att Yards TD Int
DURANT, D 46 339 1 3
Name No Yards Lg TD
MESSAM, J 12 43 13 0
BRUCE, A 2 25 22 0
NEISWANDER, J2 12 7 0
SMITH, T 1 3 3 0
Name No Yards Lg TD
GARRETT, C 5 9 4 0
DURANT, D 1 3 3 0
HUGHES, N 1 2 2 0
WILLY, D 2 1 1 0
-Player of the Game: Duron Carter (6 catches, 152 yards, 1 touchdown)
-Final Score: Montreal – 17
Saskatchewan – 12