MONTREAL — The Alouettes managed to hold off a late-game surge by Matt Nichols and the Eskimos offence, as Montreal hung on for a 27-25 win over Edmonton on Sunday afternoon at Percival-Molson Stadium.
Alouettes QB Anthony Calvillo completed 25 passes for 321 yards and two touchdown passes, surpassing the 5,000-yard passing mark for the seventh time in his 19-year career.
The Als would also receive a big game from running back Chris Jennings, who registered 90 yards on 16 carries, as well as 34 yards on three receptions.
Nichols, meanwhile, was stellar in his limited action, completing nine of his 15 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
The win was Montreal’s fifth-straight over the Esks, with Edmonton’s last win over their Eastern rivals coming during the 2007 season.
The Eskimos entered Sunday’s action without one of their most valuable offensive assets, as tailback Hugh Charles did not make the trip to Montreal due to a leg injury he sustained in last week’s loss to the BC Lions.
But the Eastern champs had injury concerns of their own, which forced Head Coach Marc Trestman to continue using little-known playmakers such as receivers Bo Bowling and Noel Devine, who both factored into the Als’ first possession.
Bowling hauled in two passes for 24 yards, while Devine registered one catch for a 31-yard gain, leading the Als just outside the Edmonton 10-yard line with a fresh set of downs.
However, Anthony Calvillo then threw two-straight incompletions intended for a pair of better-known players in Jamel Richardson and Patrick Lavoie, forcing the Als to settle for a 17-yard field goal by kicker Sean Whyte.
The field goal could be seen as a success for the Eskimos defence, one that was lit up for 39 points last week by the Lions, as the Als’ offence has a proficiency for finding the endzone in their early possessions.
The same couldn’t be said for Edmonton’s offence, however, as QB Kerry Joseph wasn’t able to build on a first-play 10-yard completion to rookie Shamawd Chambers, ultimately being forced to punt two plays later.
Following the punt, Montreal’s offence went to work with a purpose.
Calvillo orchestrated an 12-play, 90-yard drive that was capped off with a six-yard touchdown strike to Bowling, extending the Alouettes’ lead to 10.
The strike marked Calvillo’s 30th touchdown pass of the season, the seventh time he’s done so throughout his 19-year career.
On the drive, Calvillo continued to utilize both Bowling and Devine, as the latter continued to inflict damage on the Esks defensive corps, bringing in a pair of short passes that he shaked and baked his way towards big gains.
As the second quarter expired with the Alouettes still holding onto their 10-0 lead, the Eskimos took over on offence, hoping to generate some much-needed traction to get themselves back in the game.
But Joseph wasn’t able to develop any chemistry with his receivers, forcing Grant Shaw to come out and boot his third punt of the half.
When the Als regained possession, the offence continued to move the ball with ease, as Calvillo completed passes to receivers Eric Deslauriers and Richardson, while the ground game also contributed, with Chris Jennings gaining 28 yards on four carries.
At the end of the half, Jennings had gained 57 yards on eight carries.
However, the Esks D would stand tall, forcing Whyte to come out for his second punt of the afternoon, one that he would impressively pin out of bounds at the Edmonton four-yard line.
After Shaw conceded a safety, giving the Esks an even steeper hill to climb in their comeback trail, the Als offence went to work, hoping to keep their first-half offensive onslaught going.
And it would.
A 55-yard pass from Calvillo to Deslauriers would bring Montreal’s drive inside the Green and Gold’s redzone, but a forward pass interference penalty by Simoni Lawrence on Jennings would bring the Als even closer to the endzone.
With a fresh set of downs, the Als needed just three plays to cross the plane, as Adrian McPherson punched one in from one-yard out, giving the Als a 19-0 lead in the process.
The Esks would finally get on the board, however, as Shaw’s fourth punt of the half sailed over the head of Alouettes kick returner Trent Guy, cutting Montreal’s lead to 18 points with just over two minutes to go in the second quarter.
Matt Nichols was stellar in his limited time under centre with the Eskimos on Sunday, completing nine of his 15 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
Moments later, it appeared as though the Als had scored their third major of the half, as Calvillo hooked up with Deslauriers down the sidelines for a massive 44-yard score.
However, a review by the Command Centre ruled that Deslauriers had gone out of bounds prior to catching the pass, prompting the officials to enforce an illegal participation on the receiver, but most importantly for the Esks, negating the touchdown.
The Als would enter the half with a 19-1 lead.
When the second half got underway, the Eskimos offence continued to have trouble finding its rhythm, as Joseph was unable to earn a first down on two-straight drives.
On the Esks’ first drive of the second 30 minutes, Head Coach Kavis Reed finally implemented the use of tailback Cory Boyd, who re-joined the club earlier this week after being released by the club earlier this month.
Boyd gained just six yards, in what was his first carry of his second stint as an Eskimos.
But while the Esks offence was on the sidelines trying to figure out a way to break through the Als’ defensive front, the defence was busy trying to keep the Montreal attack at bay.
With the Als pinned at their own two-yard line, Calvillo opted to look deep on second down, but saw his pass intercepted by safety Donovan Alexander, who returned it 30 yards into Montreal territory.
However, the Esks weren’t able to capitalize off the turnover, as Shaw was called upon to split the uprights from 17 yards out.
It was an uneventful third quarter on the offensive side of the ball for both clubs, but it was a far different story for the two defences.
After the Als came out to a screaming start in the first half, the Esks defence was able to contain them for the first half of the second, as the unit managed to contain the usually high-octane Calvillo and his receivers.
On Edmonton’s final possession of the third quarter, the Als front seven made life even more unpleasant for Joseph and his offensive line, as he was sacked two by John Bowman and Mike Lockley.
The second sack gave the Esks a scare on the scoreboard, as Joseph fumbled the ball on contact, with Chip Cox scooping up the loose ball and returning it 49 yards for a touchdown.
However, a successful challenge by Edmonton Head Coach Kavis Reed saw the touchdown be overturned, as it was deemed Joseph had re-gained possession and was touched before the ball was knocked loose a second time.
But the fourth quarter saw the Esks offence finally come alive.
With Joseph underperforming, the Esks turned to QB Matt Nichols, hoping the 25-year-old would be able to get something going with time running out.
On his first play from scrimmage, Nichols would heave a deep pass to receiver Fred Stamps, who managed to sneak behind Cox and outrun the coverage for a 95-yard touchdown.
The Esks would add a two-point conversion to cut their deficit to just eight points with over eight minutes remaining in the game.
However, Nichols’ luck would quickly run out.
After it appeared as though he had put another dent in Montreal’s armour, connecting with Chambers for a 48-yard completion, one that was called back due Cary Koch being offsides, Nichols saw his third pass be intercepted by Dwight Anderson, squashing any momentum the Esks may have gained from the Stamps major.
The interception would prove to be a costly one for Nichols and the Esks, as the Als would pad their lead on their ensuing possession.
A 25-yard catch by Bowling would set the Als up with a fresh set of downs at the Edmonton five-yard line, where Calvillo would need just one play to find Ryan Bomben, an offensive lineman who was lining up as a tight end, for a five-yard touchdown grab.
But the Esks offence refused to go away.
Nichols shrugged aside his interception and found Chambers for the 23-year-old’s second touchdown of the season, cutting Montreal’s lead to eight points.
Following a unsuccessful drive by the Als, Nichols had one more opportunity to get the Esks into the ednzone, and would orchestrate an impressive drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown to Stamps, bringing the Esks within two of Montreal’s lead with no time remaining on the clock.
However, Nichols’ magic would run out, as he was unable to find a receiver in the endzone for the two-point conversion, giving Montreal a 27-25 lead.
The Als next head to Winnipeg to close out their 2012 regular season campaign, and will return home to prepare for the Eastern Final at Olympic Stadium on Nov. 18.
Edmonton, meanwhile, heads home to face the Calgary Stampeders, where they will have one more chance at locking up a playoff spot.