The first game of this Montreal versus Toronto weekend in regards to professional sports (football and soccer) happened Friday evening at Percival Molson Stadium. Both the Alouettes and the Argonauts were going through disappointing beginnings of the season. Montreal has got off to a 1-3 record while Toronto is even worse at 1-4. This season that kind of start was not so bad as the four teams in the East Division have got off to rough starts. Amazingly, going into the game if Montreal won they had a chance to find themselves in 1st place despite a losing record.
While Montreal really has no excuses for being this bad, Toronto is a team that has been ravaged by injuries. John Chiles (WR), Chad Owens (SB), Terry Sinkfield (WR), Jason Barnes (SB), and Andre Durie (SB) are all injured and not available targets for veteran QB Ricky Ray. While he did not light it up, Ray did not seem to put out by having new targets to throw at on this evening. I guess, that is the benefit of having experience in your quarterback position, something that Montreal does not have the benefit of.
Montreal is in the mode of trying anything to get themselves out of this funk. General Manager Jim Popp brought in former Alouettes’ head coach Don Matthews and former NFL quarterback and then quarterback coach Turk Schonert as consultants. These two men with plenty of experience are going to try and help right the ship before it goes completely under. Though in a pregame interview Matthews said he will make sure not step on head coach Tom Higgins’ toes it cannot be a very comfortable position for the veteran who can surely see the writing on the wall.
After a very slow beginning of season Montreal’s number one quarterback Troy Smith would have the starting job, but Higgins’ did say in interviews that he would be on a short leash. Higgins’ was not whistling Dixie when he said that as the game became a revolving door for quarterbacks. Each of Montreal’s three QBs got time under centre. Though one was Tanner Marsh, who came in for his usual 3rd down, short yardage quarterback sneak plays a couple of times. The other two, Smith and Alex Brink, shared the rest of the snaps on this beautiful 31 degree evening.
It is crazy that in a nine team league that this was the first game of the season for Montreal against a team from the East. Because of the rib injury to WR S.J. Green WR Marty Gilyard was to play his first minutes in the CFL. It was reported that all week in practice that he was making nice catches and he continued that in the 1st quarter of the game against Toronto. Though he is not a big man (6’0” and 194 lbs.) he is a fast one and was using that speed to get open for short passes and then gaining yards after the catch. Unfortunately he only lasted 7:47 of the game as he went down with what seemed to be a right hamstring injury in the 1st quarter. He came out of the locker room later on crutches, so you knew his night was over.
It only took 2:45 for Montreal to put their first point on the board. It came via a Sean Whyte punt that bounced into the Toronto end zone. Whyte made the score 4-0 for Montreal at 8:01 of the 1st quarter when he was successful on a 49 yard field goal. Hard to believe it, but that was pretty much the end of scoring for Montreal for the game. The offense truly is at a loss unable to gain any momentum.
There is a saying in football that basically says that the game becomes fun once you stop the run. This was especially true in this game. Als’ running back Brandon Whitaker began the game with two nice runs and that was pretty much all we heard from him. Whitaker ended the game with 31 yards on 12 rushes. He often lost yards due to the fact that as soon as he got the ball he was surrounded by Argonaut defensive players. The Argos’ defensive line dominated the Montreal offensive line. Continuously pushing them back the Argos controlled the point of attack not allowing Montreal to gain any rhythm.
This is where the Toronto offense took over. Ricky Ray has not played against Montreal since last August due to injury. Through his career Ray has been known for his quick release and precise throws. He can surprise with his mobility with it Ray can extend play using his legs. This is what he did on several occasions allowing his inexperienced receiving crew to get open. Toronto broke the shutout on the last play of the 1st quarter with a 30 yard field goal by Swayze Waters. 4-3 Montreal.
Higgins’ patience with Smith ended with the end of the 1st quarter. Alex Brink came out to start the 2nd quarter. It was his first regular season play for Montreal. He didn’t do much better than Smith, but Montreal did gain one more point via another Whyte punt single at 3:01 of the 2nd quarter. 5-3 Montreal. You had to expect this kind of low scoring game between these two struggling sides. Both offenses came into the game struggling.
Brink stayed in as quarterback for most of the 2nd quarter. He had the most chemistry with WR Dave Stala. They combined for a few completions. But Brink didn’t do any better than Smith moving the ball consistently. Both quarterbacks were guilty of under or over throwing their receivers. Often going two-and-out puts a lot of pressure on the defense and eventually even a good one like Montreal’s is going to break.
The stress of poor play started to get to Montreal and sloppy, undisciplined play began creeping into the defensive side. Defensive end Brian Brikowski was assessed a roughing the passer penalty. The ball was moved half the distance to the goal. On the first play from the 10 yard line Ray lofted a ball to running back Steve Slaton with 47 seconds left in the half. It was his first touchdown in the CFL. Toronto took a lead they would never relinquish. 10-5 Toronto.
Truth be told the game could have ended there. Montreal did not score anymore points. This was an exercise in getting Toronto’s mojo back. They scored one more offensive touchdown. Early on in the 3rd quarter Ray connected with Slaton again on a 6 yard touchdown, in the 4th quarter Montreal had to concede two punt safeties and then Toronto rounded it out with a 46 yard pick 6 by Jamie Robinson with under two minutes left in the game.
Some random thoughts: It is unacceptable coming off a bye week that Montreal looked like a team with no real plan offensively and had to waste both of their time out due to being disorganized. Mental lapses and undisciplined play are things good teams don’t do. I questioned why they went away from their running game after some early success and only went back to it when it was too late. Why stay with Brink when he was less successful than Smith? When a team is continuously 2nd and long you have to question the play calling. No matter which quarterback was in the game there was no success leading me to question the system. Quarterbacks coach Ryan Dinwiddie seems in over his head.
The only positive point for Montreal was the punt coverage special team. That is not enough to win any game. It was another game to forget for Montreal. In the last 8 quarters Montreal has scored only 5 points and has lost 3 in a row. They are now 1-4 and have to come up with some answers quickly.
Montreal’s next game is at Percival Molson Stadium next Friday against the Edmonton Eskimos.
-Box Score: 1 2 3 4 – F
Toronto 3 7 7 14 31
Montreal 4 1 0 0 5
-Passing: Toronto – Name Comp Att Yards TD Int
RAY, R 19 33 186 2 0
Montreal – Name Comp Att Yards TD Int
SMITH, T 5 10 63 0 0
BRINK, A 9 23 60 0 1
-Rushing: Toronto – Name No Yards Lg TD
SLATON, S 12 52 24 0
RAY, R 3 22 8 0
STEELE, C 2 18 14 0
WOODSON, A 3 11 5 0
GALE, M 1 1 1 0
GILL, R 1 0 0 0
Montreal – Name No Yards Lg TD
WHITAKER, B 12 31 10 0
BRINK, A 2 13 9 0
TAYLOR, L 1 0 0 0
MARSH, T 2 0 2 0
-Player of the Game: Steve Slaton (100 yards – 48 receiving, 52 rushing) – Toronto