This was to be a meeting at the summit. It turned out to be one team recovering from two losses in a row while the other now has to ask itself some serious questions. This was the first meeting of the season between Montreal and Winnipeg. They are the two teams at the top in the East. Before the game, Winnipeg was in 1st place with a 7-3 record and Montreal in 2nd with a 6-4 record. It was hyped to be a battle between Winnipeg’s excellent defense and Montreal’s vaunted offense. If that was the case, then the Winnipeg defense succeeded in showing Montreal that good defense always trumps a strong offense.
In this battle for 1st place, Montreal was coming into game off resounding 43-13 win over the Hamilton Tiger Cats while Winnipeg had suffered back-to-back losses against Saskatchewan. Neither team should be taking the other lightly as they have both demonstrated (not consistently, mind you) that they are talented teams. Also, Winnipeg had accumulated a perfect 4-0 record against Eastern foes.
It was a beautiful, sunny mid-September Sunday afternoon at not quite sold out Percival Molson Stadium. Perfect weather for a football game as it was 18 degrees Celsius at the beginning of the game and the wind was blowing at a very light 11 km/h. The Als chose to receive the ball to start the game. Right off the bat Winnipeg demonstrated that they were going to be handful. The visitors were winning the battles right off the mark.
After allowing one first down, Winnipeg’s defense halted the Montreal attack. Demonstrating that their reputation as a high risk, big play offense was warranted, Winnipeg quickly in 4 offensive plays struck for a touchdown only 5:16 into the 1st quarter. Travelling 108 yards in only 4 plays was impressive with the biggest being their longest play from scrimmage of the season, a 92 yard catch and run toss to receiver and former Concordia Stinger Cory Watson. The touchdown was a Buck Pierce – Greg Carr 9 yard hook up and it was the first of the season for the Winnipeg receiver. A smartly called play, it was the case of a 6’5” receiver being covered by a 5’10” defensive back. Montreal’s defense would have to be alert as the Bombers like going deep and stretching out the opposing defense.
Winnipeg added to their lead with a 47 yard Fred Reid, second in the CFL in yardage to the Alouettes’ Brandon Whitaker, run. He went through the middle of the Als’ defense untouched into the endzone. Two big plays. Two touchdowns.
This quick start to the game for Winnipeg did not bode well for the home team as the Blue Bombers are a team that has traditionally started slowly. This season so far they have allowed 29 more points in the 1st half than they’ve scored. Also, a few more Montreal offensive series demonstrated that the Bombers defensive backs were not intimidated by the big Montreal receivers. Quite the contrary, actually.
The only good thing to say about the early part of the game for the Alouettes was that late in the 1st quarter wide receiver Kerry Watkins caught an 11 yard pass from Anthony Calvillo and it was his 500th career catch. He is only about 500 behind team and league leader Ben Calhoon.
In the 2nd quarter things got a little better for the Alouettes. They were able to get some points on the board, but in three trips into the red zone they only came away with one touchdown (13 yard pass from Calvillo to Brian Bratton) and two field goals (39 and 26 yards). Those points left on the field would come back to haunt them. Kicker Sean Whyte also contributed a single point off of a punt while Winnipeg was held to a single field goal. So the half time score was a reasonable 17-14 Winnipeg.
Both offenses sputtered along in the 3rd quarter not really accomplishing much of anything. It was like a hockey game where the puck just stays in the neutral zone. Winnipeg was able to break through first and added a single point off a 47 yard punt by Mike Renaud and then on the last play of the quarter Winnipeg dealt the death blow to Montreal via a 39 yard touchdown pass from Pierce to former Al Terrence Edwards. It was a precise pass in which De’Audra Dix was victimized.
Winnipeg demonstrated, as Als’ coach Marc Trestman indicated before the game, that they are talented at all three levels of defense – defensive line, linebackers and secondary. It is a fast defense that gets to the ball quickly. With S.J. Green suffering a rib injury early in the game, Winnipeg was able to focus their attention on league leader Jamel Richardson. They effectively took him out of the game until the 4th quarter. He did not have a single catch until then.
Richardson was able to get out from under their blanket coverage to make 4 catches in the 4th quarter for 65 yards and even got loose for an 11 yard touchdown reception at 12:30. The Alouettes’ touchdown, along with an earlier 18 yard field goal by Whyte, brought the score to 25-23 Winnipeg. After the touchdown Montreal did attempt a 2 point conversion to tie the game that failed.
After stopping the Blue Bombers late in the game Montreal got the ball back with around 1:30 left on the clock. They would just have needed a field goal to pull off a victory that they didn’t deserve, but it was not to be. Once again the Bombers defense came through and Montreal turned the ball over on downs after two straight Calvillo to Richardson passes went incomplete.
Winnipeg, who have won only three times against Montreal in their last 11 meetings, would have some swagger back in their walk as they now find themselves 4 points clear of the 2nd place Als. It is not over between these two teams as Montreal will travel to Winnipeg in two weeks time for part two of the Als-Bombers 2011 saga.
The next game for the Alouettes is on Friday night against the Eskimos in Edmonton.