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Alouettes receiver Jake Wieneke takes comeback heroics in stride

Before the Alouettes could produce the biggest comeback victory in franchise history last Saturday, so many things had to go right — from Ciante Evans’ interception that led to a touchdown, to quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. not being ejected after ripping off, then striking, Winnipeg’s Adam Bighill with his helmet.

And don’t forget the catch by Jake Wieneke.

Before Wieneke capped the six-play, 94-yard drive with the winning 15-yard touchdown catch, he dove and caught a deflected ball on the second down of that series. It only resulted in a seven-yard gain but, without the catch, Montreal would have been faced with a third-and-10 gamble.

Perhaps it was moot, since Adams gained 12 yards on the next play and then connected with Quan Bray for a 60-yard pass-and-run play, putting the Als in scoring position. Two plays later, Wieneke scored with six seconds remaining as Montreal defeated the Blue Bombers 38-37.

“That was just a crazy play. I just saw the ball deflect and I dove. It actually hit off my right hand and ended up in my left hand, just perfectly,” Wieneke said following Thursday’s rain-soaked outdoor practice. “I don’t really know how it happened. It ended up being a big play.

“A lot of stuff had to happen on that last drive — and it did,” he added. “There’s no quit in this team. We’re still fighting. It definitely was an amazing win.”

Wieneke, in his first season with the Als, led all receivers, with eight catches for 134 yards, including one play that covered 44 yards. He was named one of the league’s top performers of the week. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, who has played in all 12 games, has caught 27 passes for 376 yards. Surprisingly, five of those receptions have resulted in touchdowns.

It’s been that kind of a season for Wieneke, who often is overshadowed by Eugene Lewis and DeVier Posey. In four games, he has been held to one catch. In two others, he didn’t have a reception. At Saskatchewan two weeks ago, he didn’t even have a ball directed his way.

But Wieneke isn’t complaining and likely wouldn’t have it any other way.

He completed his four-year career at South Dakota State as the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s career leader in receptions (288), receiving yards (5,157) and touchdowns (59).

Although he wasn’t selected in the NFL draft, the native of Maple Grove, Minn., signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings, calling it the “best feeling in the world.”

But he was waived at the end of training camp in 2018 and, following a stint with Salt Lake of the short-lived AAF, signed with the Als. He knew little about the Canadian Football League, or Montreal, but heard of quarterback Johnny Manziel’s short tenure with the team last season.

“My agent said it would be a great opportunity, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it,” said the 25-year-old Wieneke. “I just love playing football. It’s a game I’ve been playing my whole life. I’m embracing and enjoying every day.”

Thursday’s practice was the Als’ final one this week. They depart Friday morning for Saturday night’s game against the Lions in Vancouver.

Montreal will be without Adams, who is serving a one-game suspension for the incident with Bighill. Adams will be replaced by Matthew Shiltz. Tailback Jeremiah Johnson returns from a two-game absence (concussion), but the visitors will be without Evans (broken hand). He’ll be replaced by Jarnor Jones.

Johnson, who signed with the Als as a free agent last winter after spending time with B.C., said he doesn’t expect the offence to miss a beat with Shiltz behind centre.

“He’s a professional,” Johnson said. “He throws the ball well and he can run with it. It brings another dynamic to the offence. We’ll do everything we can to keep him up and make sure he can throw the ball safely and without guys on his heels. Just make sure everything flows smoothly.”

Although the Als have struggled over the years at Vancouver, they can secure a playoff berth — their first since 2014 — with a win, combined with losses by Ottawa and Toronto.

Head coach Khari Jones said he’s only concerned about defeating the Lions.

“I don’t think about the clinching part,” said Jones. “If you win enough games, you’re going to be in the playoffs. I know that. We have to work to win this game. Then we work to win the next game. Then you look up and say, ‘ok, where are we? Let’s go play again’.”