MONTREAL — All season long Avon Cobourne felt neglected in the Montreal Alouettes backfield, but when his number was called in the CFL East Division final, he was ready to fly.
Cobourne rushed 17 times for 163 yards and a touchdown and added 53 more yards on passes as the Alouettes rolled to a 48-17 victory over the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday afternoon.
The win gave Montreal a chance for a second straight Grey Cup when they face the West Division champions next Sunday in Edmonton. No team has won back-to-back Grey Cup titles since the Argonauts did it in 1996 and 1997.
The offensive explosion came after what has been a quiet season for the Alouettes’ excitable, slashing tailback, who was sixth in the league in rushing with 956 yards on 194 carries. Everyone ahead of him got the ball at least 200 times, and Cobourne felt too many of his runs were late in games that were already decided.
”When you worry about things you can’t control you tend to be angry and I was because the numbers weren’t there and it’s my contract year and I have a family,” said Cobourne. ”It affected my game because I probably would have played better.
”But that’s in the past. Now, we’re playing for the Cup and another ring.”
Cobourne said he had a chat with Marc Trestman late in the season about getting the ball more often and the third-year head coach, who emphasizes the passing game, eased his mind.
“He’s an aggressive guy,” Trestman said. “We (disagree) sometimes, but that happens with everybody who wants the ball.”
On a day when the Alouettes seemed one step ahead of Toronto on attack and on defence, Cobourne ran wild.
”I guess they just waited for the right time and this is it,” said Cobourne.
He provided a nice counterbalance to quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who passed for 334 yards and ran an offence that piled up 557 net yards to 271 for Toronto.
“It was fun just to hand the ball off, watch the big guys come off and let Avon run,” said Calvillo. “When we have a balanced attack, it’s very hard to beat us.
“It’s an emotional feeling to keep doing what we’re doing. To get back and have another chance for a championship is a special feeling. If that feeling wasn’t in me, I wouldn’t be playing.”
Jamel Richardson, with two long TD grabs, and Adrian McPherson also scored, Tim Maypray got one on a punt return and Jerald Brown got another on an interception return before a roaring crowd of 58,021 at Olympic Stadium.
Damon Duval added two field goals for Montreal, which advanced to the Grey Cup game for an eighth time since 2000, all with Calvillo behind centre.
“They moved their chess pieces in the right spots — you’ve got to give them credit,” said Argos kick returner Chad Owens, who had two long returns but otherwise was not a factor in the outcome.
Jermaine Copeland scored a late TD and Noel Prefontaine booted three field goals for the Argonauts, who showed no punch on attack in their first division final since 2007. Toronto has not been to the Grey Cup game since they won in 2004.
The pre-game attention was on the Argonauts’ league-leading rusher Cory Boyd, but he left early in the fourth quarter when a leg went numb from a nagging injury. He had been held to 43 yards on eight carries before then.
The Alouettes had injuries of their own to worry about. Saftey Mathieu Proulx left early following a tackle and was on crutches after the game. He is to have an MRI exam on Monday to determine if he will be fit for the Grey Cup game. Cornerback Mark Estelle left with a bruised right leg but said he should be OK.
The Alouettes entered the game as the 10-point favourite and took a 17-0 lead in the opening 8:46. Toronto quarterback Cleo Lemon did not complete a pass or earn a first down in the first quarter and was 3-for-9 for only 57 yards in the first half.
Lemon ended up completing 11 passes for 169 yards and was picked off twice. It was Dalton Bell, who went in midway through the fourth quarter, who hit Copeland with a 10-yard TD toss.
“They fell right into our game plan,” said linebacker Diamond Ferri. “We didn’t want Cleo to be comfortable and have throwing lanes.
“We wanted him running out of the pocket and turning the wrong way. He wasn’t that accurate on the run.”
Ferri had been the centre of trash talk when he called Lemon “shark bait,” which drew some clever ripostes from Toronto defensive lineman Adriano Belli during the lead-up to the game.
When it was over, Belli, a former Alouette, just said, “I hate their guts, but I wish them the best.”
After a field goal on their first possession, the Alouettes scored on their second as Calvillo found Richardson wide open for a 53-yard catch and run at 6:36. Only 2:10 later, Maypray flew up the middle for an 85-yard TD punt return.
Lemon led a drive from his own 30 that produced Prefontaine’s 32-yard field goal 4:30 into the second quarter, but Calvillo answered with a 10-play march capped by backup QB McPherson’s one-yard TD.
After another Toronto field goal, Cobourne got the ball five plays in a row for Duval’s answering boot to end the half.
The Alouettes threatened again to open the second half, but a drive stopped when Sean Smalls picked off Calvillo in the end zone. Their next possession went to the Toronto 22, where Cobourne took the ball around the right side for a TD.
Richardson added another on a 44-yard catch 7:11 into the fourth quarter.
McPherson then took over at QB while Toronto turned to Bell, who promptly was picked off by Brown for a late TD. Bell bounced back with a TD pass to Copeland that stood up to video review, plus a two-point convert.
The win gives Montreal another chance to erase a reputation for being Grey Cup underachievers with only two wins in seven appearances in the last decade.
”We’re still writing the legacy of this team,” said Calvillo. ”It’s fun doing it. To be in a Grey Cup for an eighth time is something I couldn’t have imagined.”
Notes: Cobourne tweeted before the game that it was ”the biggest game of my career.” It was his first career playoff 100-yard rushing game. . . Linebacker Shea Emry and defensive lineman J.P. Bekasiak picked off Lemon passes. . . Last year, Montreal swamped B.C. 56-17 in the East final. . . The Alouettes did not kick to Chad Owens until they had a comfortable lead. The league’s top returner nearly broke his first one, but was pushed out of bounds by Duval.