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TORONTO — The Argos and Alouettes meet for the third and final time on Sunday afternoon, as first place is on the line in Toronto.
Chad Kackert and Ricky Ray will not be in action for the Boatmen, who will be looking to bounce back from a 36-10 loss on home soil to the Riders a week ago.
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With the season series tied at one apiece and the tiebreaker up for grabs, along with the fact that only two points separate the Als and Argos heading into the weekend, Sunday’s matchup becomes a focal point for each of these two teams.
Both the Argos and Als missed the opportunity last week at home against teams traveling from the West, as Montreal was stunned by the Bombers and the Argos couldn’t overcome injury woes in the loss to Saskatchewan.
But while Jarious Jackson was held to just 162 yards and a touchdown on 16-31 passing with an interception, and Gerald Riggs Jr. was held in check filling in for Kackert, the focus for the Argos this week will be on coming out ready to play at home – something head coach Scott Milanovich said, quite frankly, his team didn’t do last weekend.
“We’re not a perfect team,” he said Wednesday, unabashedly.
Milanovich is nevertheless supremely confident in his team, because he has seen resolve and tenacity from his staff and players over the last 15 weeks.
“I have no doubt our coaches and our players will continue to work,” he said.
It is why Milanovich accepted all the blame for Monday’s loss to Saskatchewan, and tried to alleviate any pressure by insisting he did not prepare Toronto properly. He said Wednesday he will be exhaustive in meetings ahead of today’s game against Montreal.
“[Refining] detail comes in the meeting room and the classroom … the pictures [coaches] draw and the way that [players] study,” Milanovich said. “That is where we as coaches can get better, and just make sure there is no grey area, and everyone knows exactly what is expected to be done on every play and every assignment.”
Milanovich simply said he trusts his players to improve. During video sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, the coach said, players understood their errors from Monday.
With numbers swirling this time of year, the first-year head coach claims to put little stock in most statistics, and he sounded exasperated Wednesday when asked if any numbers prove to him his team has had problems executing at critical points in the season.
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“It is not ever just one thing,” Milanovich said. “All [the penalties and inconsistent offensive production], I’ve been talking about all year. That is the difference between winning and losing. There isn’t one answer for those things.”
Yet Milanovich might have found a solution. His self-condemnation and reluctance to publicly criticize specific players appears to be a gambit used to craft a subtle challenge: The coach recognizes his team’s mistakes, says he will work harder, and now players must be equally dedicated. Toronto’s veterans understand the tactic.
“It is a matter of taking that ownership and thinking about your game plan,” fullback Jeff Johnson said. “ ‘OK, what is my job? My job is to beat the guy across from me, but how am I going to do it? What is the first thing I’m going to remember? ’”
Defensive back Ahmad Carroll, who started 10 games this season, made himself conspicuous by routinely allowing long pass completions and committing persistent penalties. T.J Williams has started ahead of Carroll the last three games, and Milanovich says the competition for jobs is still open.
Defensive end Ricky Foley is just plain tired of talking about how to correct things. He remembers fretting about the Argos’ slim playoff chances last season. Sunday’s game could potentially decide first in the East, and Foley knows Milanovich and defensive coordinator Chris Jones will be meticulous in their preparation. The pressure is on the players.
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Anthony Calvillo picked apart the Argos defence to the tune of 315 yards and two touchdowns, while Ricky Ray was taken out of the game in the first quarter with a knee injury as the Als rolled to a 31-10 win at Percival-Molson Stadium. Brandon London had 118 yards through the air, while Victor Anderson added 127 yards from scrimmage to help give the Als a two-game lead atop the East Division standings. Chad Owens had six catches for 87 yards in the loss for the Argos, while Chad Kackert added 84 yards on the ground.
“We’ve all been guilty of [mistakes],” Foley said. “It is a new defence and new offence … I’m halfway annoyed of even talking about it. It is to the point where we’re either going to [execute], or we’re not.”
For the Alouettes, the situation isn’t a whole lot different. Two weeks ago after a dominant win over these very same Boatmen, the Als had a two-game hold on the East Division title with upcoming meetings against Hamilton and Winnipeg.
The Als lost both of those games though, with opposing quarterbacks Henry Burris and Joey Elliott each earning Offensive Player of the Week awards for their efforts.
While Anthony Calvillo’s never been one to make dressing-room speeches or go on wild diatribes with media present, he raised his voice about his team’s play of late – and everyone’s listening.
“The last two weeks, when we needed to win, we didn’t show up and play. What I said was spoken from the heart. That’s how I felt,” said Calvillo
“I’m not the coach, but the sense was we were supposed to win that game. Everyone in the locker is frustrated and p—ed off. I believe they are,” Calvillo continued.
“The vets in the locker room realize how important the next game’s going to be. There are no more excuses. Playing inconsistent is unacceptable. Period. The pressure’s on. It’s time to get our act together.”
“We’re going to find out what kind of backbone we have this Sunday.”
The Als aren’t accustomed to playing with pressure in October, but now, with the screws tightening, the question is which Alouettes team will show up for Sunday’s pivitol clash?
“We’ll have to find out. We’ll see,” linebacker Chip Cox said. “We haven’t had to (win a game) until this week. We’ve beaten every team and lost to every team (except Saskatchewan and Edmonton). But this game won’t prove anything about us, and I won’t question our locker. I know how hard guys are working.”
Even Calvillo, who continues being bothered by a left shoulder that was injured early this season — he has trouble lifting and extending his non-throwing arm — refused to waiver about his teammates’ resilience and mettle.
“The wheels haven’t fallen off,” he said. “I wouldn’t be playing with a bum shoulder if I felt that way. If guys don’t give a crap, it’s time to quit. If I sensed that, I’d throw in the towel.”
Coincidentally, following a day off on Tuesday, Head Coach Marc Trestman refused to schedule a full practice on Wednesday. The Als will have practised only twice before facing Toronto.
“This team … needs to rest. I’m giving them the benefit of doubt when it comes to the cost analysis of rest over practice,” Trestman explained. “It’s too short (a time) to ask them to practice at full speed.”
Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from Postmedia