Bombers pose greatest test for Als
Despite losing record, Montreal still in hunt for playoff spot
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$1.50 for 150 days*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.
MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes have lost more than twice as many games as they’ve won as they near the midway mark of their 2022 regular-season schedule.
Despite being 2-5 on the year, the Alouettes find themselves not only still fighting for a playoff berth, but they are also actually occupying one, tied for second place with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. While they’re only two points shy of the Toronto Argonauts (3-3) for top spot in the East Division, they’re also at risk of being caught by the Ottawa Redblacks, who earned their first victory of the season with a win over the Argos to improve to 1-6.
“We control our own destiny. That’s not a thing you think you’d be able to say at 2-5,” Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris said Wednesday from Olympic Stadium. “The fact we have that opportunity gives hope. It’s about still keeping our eyes on the process. If we focus on a goal, it’s going to take our eyes off what we’re doing throughout the game and trying to do.”
While games haven’t exactly been easy this year, the challenge staring Montreal in the face right now is its greatest yet. The Alouettes begin a home-and-home series against the unbeaten Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are a sparkling 8-0, beginning Thursday night at Molson Stadium.
It might not yet be make-or-break time for the Alouettes given the struggles in the East, but falling to the Bombers, even just once, will lessen those chances of playing meaningful football come November. Inside the Alouettes locker room, the players understand what’s at stake as much as they respect the strength of opponent in front of them.
The chance to knock off the back-to-back Grey Cup champs is also being viewed as an opportunity, the chance to inject some good feelings into what’s been a tough year for the Alouettes.
“Winnipeg’s a tremendous team. We know that,” added Harris. “I don’t see us as a team throwing up Hail Marys to win games. We’re in every game. It’s about us fine-tuning the details. There’s a lot of parity in this league. You don’t see a ton of blowouts. Winnipeg has done a great job figuring out how to win every week. Obviously, it’s going to be a daunting task to play them.”
Montreal opened the season with a lot of promise, with the hope of putting the 2021 campaign behind them, even if it was viewed as another step in the right direction.
The Alouettes finished that campaign 7-7, good enough for third place in the East. It was the second consecutive trip to the post-season, which was preceded by a four-year playoff drought, which was preceded by 19 straight years of post-season football and three Grey Cups.
Then came the off-season, a winter filled with rumours and speculation, particularly about the future of head coach Khari Jones. Everyone and their dog knew that Jones’ seat was hot and when the club opened 2022 with a 1-3 record, he was given his walking papers, along with defensive co-ordinator Barron Miles.
General manager Danny Maciocia, who was hired in January of 2020, after Jones was made coach the year before, has taken over the coaching duties. He hired his old friend Noel Thorpe to handle the defence and assigned Anthony Calvillo to call the offensive plays, a role also held by Jones as the team’s offensive co-ordinator.
Even before the firing of Jones, the Alouettes were struck with a streak of bad luck.
Running back William Stanback, a CFL all-star and the East nominee for most outstanding player last season, injured fractured his ankle in Week 1, forcing him to undergo surgery. He hasn’t been ruled out for the season but there’s also little evidence that he’ll be back this year.
Montreal has brought in bodies to replace their star back, but Jeshrun Antwi hasn’t been able to fully fill the void left behind. The Alouettes have brought in Tavien Foster, a 24-year-old rookie who will suit up for his first CFL game against the Bombers.
After leading the CFL in rushing last season, averaging 144.5 yards on the ground per game, the Alouettes are in sixth in the league this year, at 90 yards.
“You definitely miss someone like Stanback; that’s a given,” Maciocia said. “Once the injury took place, bit of an identity shift.”
Then came a stretch of inconsistent play by starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., followed by a streak of illness and injury. Adams contracted COVID-19, sidelining him for Week 3, and is now dealing with tendinitis in his elbow, with the Alouettes assigning him to the six-game injured list on Wednesday.
By then, however, Adams had already lost his job to Harris.
“Took a second injection (of lubricant called hyaluronic acid) in his right elbow. Not getting any better,” Maciocia noted. “Certain exercises in time will heal the issues he has. Two injections in the last two weeks. When he throws and how he reacts after he throws, clearly not comfortable with it.”
Of Montreal’s five losses, three are by a combined five points. Last week’s loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was by seven points, with the Alouettes pushing for a comeback, with one final shot at Hamilton’s 21-yard line with eight seconds remaining.
The loss stung, made even more difficult by the fact that Harris was pulled by the league’s concussion spotters just before the final play. He had just rushed for 17 yards, with another 15 tacked on after he took a hit that resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Getting back on track with a win against Winnipeg is the next order of business. A loss and it’s going to feel like the status quo.
“Every week’s going to be important. Even after these next two games we get on a stretch where most of our games will be divisional opponents,” Maciocia said. “If we show up and are able to play to our level, we’ll give ourselves a legitimate chance. That’s extremely important – that we play the type of football we feel we’re capable of playing.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.