November 15, 2023

The mid-season turnaround that changed everything for Alouette

After a Week 15 home loss to the Toronto Argonauts, the Montreal Alouettes’ record dropped to 6-7. That defeat ended up being their fourth in a row and their second back-to-back weeks against the Argos. It was the low point of a season that saw them start 6-3. But after that loss on Sep. 15, everything changed.

The turnaround began with middle linebacker Darnell Sankey’s key declaration to the media.

“I believe we’re going to win every single game and we’re going to win the Grey Cup,” Sankey, who only signed with the Als on Sep. 11, told CFL.ca. If that’s not your belief, you shouldn’t be on this team.”

What’s happened since then?

The Alouettes have rattled off seven wins in a row, including last Saturday’s East Division Final win over the Toronto Argonauts.
“It’s the quote of the season, apparently,” Sankey said during Tuesday’s media availability at Tim Horton’s Field.

“When we lost to Toronto in my first game, it was such a sour feeling, especially the way we lost, I just never wanted to feel that again. As a competitor and as one of the leaders on the defence, I had to make it known that I believe in our team and that I have faith and that I trust the process. It was just a statement I made out of faith. I really believe in our team.”

Even though the Alouettes finished the season with a record of 11-7 and they went into the playoffs riding a five-game winning streak, outsiders were skeptical of this team’s ability to put away a top-level team. After all, all seven of their losses came against the B.C. Lions, Toronto Argonauts, and this Sunday’s Grey Cup opponent, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“Being in this league, you know it’s hard to win football games,” linebacker Tyrice Beverette explained. “You have to play your best each and every week. We know that in the beginning of the season, the few losses we suffered didn’t define us. We knew what our common goal was…When a team goes through ups and downs early, it ends up being a better situation that prepare you for moments like this because you’ve been through every scenario. You’ve lost games, you’ve won games, and you’ve been in close games, so there’s no panic there.”

Dominant post-season victories over the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts have caught people’s attention. In both playoff games, the Als have received contributions in all three phases of the game, but it’s their defence that has stood out. In two games, they were able to create 12 turnovers, nine of which came at BMO Field against the Argos last week.

Now a different kind of challenge awaits. The Bombers are battle-tested, and they have a lot of big-game experience. Winnipeg is making their fourth consecutive Grey Cup appearance. They managed to win the championship in 2019 and 2021 before losing a wild game to Toronto last year.

“We’re going to approach them just like we did Toronto,” Sankey said of the Bombers. “We’re going to go into the game with confidence, trusting our preparation, trusting the process, believing, having faith, and knowing what we can do as a defence. We know what we bring to the table. We know we’re going to fly around and make plays. We just have to make them when they’re out there.”