October 15, 2022

Alouettes clinch playoff spot with win over Redblacks

The Alouettes got off to a slow start in 2022. They started the year 2-6 with the daunting task of heading to Winnipeg on Aug. 11. Not only did they beat the Bombers on their home field, but they’ve also rattled off six wins in their last eight overall. This team has turned the corner. If they can put it all together at the right time, this team could do some damage come November.

Friday’s thrilling 34-30 victory over the Redblacks allowed the Als to clinch a playoff spot. They’ll either be hosting the East Division semi-final on Nov. 6, or the East Division final on Nov. 13. To finish first, the Als need to beat Toronto twice in the final two weeks of the season.

“We’ll celebrate this win, but make no mistake, we’re not going to be celebrating too long because we can still maximize this regular season,” quarterback Trevor Harris said on Friday night. “We have two games left, and we’d like to be playing at home on Nov. 13th in the nest.”

If you missed the Alouettes postgame show on Facebook live, you can watch it by clicking on this link.

Let’s not look too far ahead. Here is what I saw during the win over Ottawa:

Defensive adjustments:

I realize it wasn’t pretty in the first half. Give the Redblacks credit for moving the ball efficiently on the Alouettes defence. Ottawa had a 7-0 lead before you could blink and they were up 21-10 at one point. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle kept the defence off balance with his blend of quick throws and deep shots. It wasn’t looking good for the Als, but Noel Thorpe’s unit adjusted.

They came out in the third quarter and didn’t give up a single point in that 15-minute frame. They also managed to hold the Redblacks to two field goals in the fourth. The game could have fallen apart after Dom Davis was stopped on third-and-one the first time. Instead, Ottawa managed just a field goal on the ensuing drive.

The defence also came up huge after Davis was stopped for a second time with roughly one minute remaining in the game. The entire unit deserves credit, but defensive end Jamal Davis’ pressure on Arbuckle on the final two plays of the game essentially sealed the deal for Montreal.

“You just want to get back there,” Davis said of getting to the quarterback. “Creating havoc in the backfield and getting there quick. I just wanted to showcase my moves. Coach Thorpe and (defensive line coach Greg) Quick came up with a great rush plan during the second half and they told us to execute it. So, I give them credit for coming up with the plan and we executed. I’m glad we’re coming home with the win.”

We also have to mention defensive end Thomas Costigan’s forced fumble in the first half that Adarius Pickett returned to the end zone for a touchdown, which tied the game, 7-7.

This group deserves respect for the way they turned things around in this game.

Special teams success:

There’s a lot that needs to be mentioned on special teams.

First, Chandler Worthy had some terrific returns that put the Als offence into great spots on the field. His best return on the night came in the fourth quarter when the Als were trailing by three points. Worthy managed to field the ball at his own 48-yard line, and he returned it 39 yards to the Ottawa 23.

A few plays later, Davis punched the ball in from the one-yard line to give the Alouettes a 34-30 advantage.

There was an awesome block by Jeshrun Antwi that allowed Worthy to turn the corner. Also, it would’ve been nice to get the facemask call on the tackle at the end, but it is what it is.

I was very impressed by fullback Alexandre Gagne, who finished with three special teams tackles in this game. They all came in the first half, but they were all very important. Tyrice Beverette, who is also contributing on defence, made three special teams tackles of his own in this one.

Finally, the kicking game deserves respect. Joe Zema has developed into one of the elite punters in the CFL (there’s a legitimate argument to be made that he’s the best one in the league right now) and David Cote has been solid.

For Cote, it’s not just about hitting field goals (he went 2-for-2 against Ottawa), it’s also about how he came up with a booming kickoff at a critical moment in the fourth quarter. After Davis scored the touchdown to give the Als the lead, Cote drilled the ensuing kickoff 73 yards (his longest of the game). Ottawa started that drive at their own 29-yard line.

“We knew that Ottawa is well-coached on special teams,” Gagne said after the game. “We knew it was going to be a tough matchup. We had to prove to ourselves that we could survive and win this matchup. Last week, we felt like it was pretty even, but we wanted to come in here today and dominate. I’m really happy with the way the guys played. We showed up, made big plays, made big returns, and we prevented them from making big plays.”

Offensive success:

Several players on offence deserve credit for their performance, but we’re going to highlight a few in the next few paragraphs.

What more can you say about Tyson Philpot? The rookie got into the starting lineup because of the injury to Reggie White Jr, and he led the team in receptions, with seven, and receiving yards, with 76.

He also does things like this that highlight just how strong he is for a 22-year-old:

The Als drive should have ended with that catch. When the first Ottawa defender makes contact with Philpot, he’s at least five yards away from the first down marker. He kept fighting and dragging defenders along, and he put his team in a third-and-one situation, which they converted. The Als ended up getting a field goal on that drive. Those were three huge points.

How about the trade that sent Walter Fletcher from Edmonton to Montreal for a late-round draft pick? That move has paid off. Fletcher finished the night with four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown, and he added four rushes for 30 yards.

Look how special he is with the ball in his hands:

“I love the wider field in the CFL,” Fletcher said when he was asked to describe his touchdown. “It helps you catch your balance a little bit. Two weeks ago, we played Edmonton, one of my touchdowns got taken away so I knew I wanted to get that back for sure. In my mind, all I was thinking about was scoring. It was a crucial play for us, and I was glad to make that play.”

You can’t talk about this team’s offensive success without mentioning Harris. The veteran has now gone four games without throwing an interception.

He helped get the team back in the game by orchestrating a touchdown drive in the second quarter, which started from the Montreal six-yard line. He threw the pass the Fletcher, and he did the rest.

A big reason why the Als were able to win this game is because they scored 17 points in the second half. They wouldn’t have done it without Harris, who also contributed two runs for 17 yards. The run right before the Davis go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter was particularly impressive, as he scrambled to his right before making three Redblacks defenders miss. He managed to pick up five yards on second-and-four.

“I’ve always prided myself on being a little slippery when I needed to be,” Harris said. “Geno (Lewis) and I talked earlier in the game. We just said, ‘hey, whatever it takes, by any means, we’re going to get this done tonight.’ If it means we run the ball 45 times and we won’t throw it, fine. So be it. We’re just getting a win tonight. If it means that your slow quarterback has to scramble for a first down, so be it. I was glad I was able to do that. (Ottawa did a good job of covering up our first, second, and third read on that play. I was able to step up and get a little bit of a ball fake. I’m just thankful I was able to get the first down there.”

Finally, I know many will question the decision to go for it on third-and-one in the final moments of the game from the Ottawa 40-yard line. I had no issue with Danny Maciocia’s decision there. If you pick up the first down, you win the game. Yes, Davis had been stopped on a short-yardage situation earlier in the game, but it was the first time he hadn’t converted all season. Give your guys the benefit of the doubt. Go out there and try to win the game. You can’t play scared.

What’s next:

The Alouettes will host the Toronto Argonauts at Percival Molson Stadium next Saturday. First place is on the line. Make sure you come cheer your team on!