Zurkowsky: It's not always pretty, but the Als keep finding ways to win
When the Alouettes were in Calgary earlier this season, it took double overtime, but they scored 40 points in a victory against the defending Grey Cup champions.
Back in early July, in the third game of the season, Montreal produced 36 points against Hamilton for its first victory. The Tiger-Cats, as everyone has likely noticed, appear to be running away with the East Division.
And yet, in their last two games, the Als have struggled — yet persevered — against Toronto and British Columbia, which have combined for two wins this season.
Maybe that’s the way it’s going to be for Montreal this season: Play to the level of the competition, yet invariably find a way to prevail. There are worse lots in life.
“I don’t believe we think about the competition so much. We just have to play better football more often,” Als head coach Khari Jones said after his team did just enough in a 21-16 victory over the Lions Friday night at Molson Stadium.
“Hamilton scored 13 points against this team. They’re not a bad defence,” Jones continued. “We just have to make plays when it matters. I don’t think about it in those terms. We scored enough to win. I was happy with that.”
That, after all, is the bottom line. The Als don’t appear to be a team that has been constructed to dominate or obliterate the opposition. But after four seasons of missing the playoffs, this once-dominant franchise has a 6-4 record and sits solidly in second place in the division — arguably too far behind to catch the Hamilton, but comfortably ahead of both Ottawa and Toronto.
Montreal jumped to a 14-0 second-quarter lead and appeared primed to bury the visitors, who now sit at 1-10 but lost a game by five points or less for the fourth time this season. That’s how thin the margin between victory and defeat can be in the Canadian Football League.
Even nursing a 14-7 lead, it appeared the Als would add to that cushion just before halftime. But with the ball at the B.C. 35, and heading towards the west end zone — the end of the field where kicker Boris Bede historically has more success — quarterback Vernon Adams decided against playing it safe.
He launched a pass into the end zone for DeVier Posey. The receiver appeared to be open, for a time, but the ball was underthrown and intercepted.
“I kind of lost it. I stepped up and was trying to rush the throw,” admitted Adams, who came to the podium for his post-game conference joined by his 5-year-old son, Vernon Kash.
“You’re supposed to finish with your thumb going down. My wrist went like this,” he continued, arching his hand awkwardly. “No excuses because he was open. I could have made that throw. I know I could have. That’s on me.”
Coincidentally, the Als sagged badly when the teams returned for the second half. Despite playing with a decided wind advantage in the third quarter, Montreal failed to generate a first down and was limited to six offensive plays. In the dressing room and on the sideline, Jones admitted he sensed a letdown.
“Maybe that was it,” he said. “We came in from the break right after that. It hit pretty hard. We’d moved the ball pretty well. We went for it but shouldn’t have, really. We just wanted to come out of that half with points. Sometimes we get a little too much of a gambler’s mentality. We have to do a better job of closing out the half and get points on the board. I felt that would have helped us out.
“Things happen in a game. You have to roll with them and adjust. That’s what I like about the team — they didn’t fold or get down on themselves. We just kept at it and made some plays when it mattered.”
Although the Als were badly outplayed for the better part of 17 minutes following the break, and the Lions seemingly were able to move the ball at will, Montreal’s defence proved stout when it mattered, holding B.C. to a pair of short Sergio Castillo field goals.
Trailing by a point, 14-13, was as close as the Lions would get.
Perhaps that was the wake-up call Montreal required. That has been the pattern for this team lately — play well in the fourth quarter, or overtime, when necessary. An ability to find that elusive finishing kick could serve them well in the long run.
And so it was, when the Als needed a spark, Adams directed them on a time-consuming 10-play, 75-yard drive, culminating in a short touchdown pass to Quan Bray. It might not be the ideal recipe for Jones, their rookie head coach, but who can argue with success?
“That’s a good trait to have … to be able to finish the game out. I would have liked to have finished it a little bit sooner than we did,” Jones admitted. “Our defence really stood up today. They got some yards on us, but not a whole lot of points. That was good.”
Tailback William Stanback, now back at full health following his heel injury, gained 78 yards on 15 carries. And, while the Lions allowed only two quarterback sacks — a modest total for this team — both were produced by John Bowman, who now has 130 in his illustrious career. Adams completed 18 of 25 passes for 232 yards.