MONTREAL – Tanner Marsh came off the bench in a relief effort and helped stage an improbable comeback in a thrilling 39-38 Montreal Alouettes win over the BC Lions. He finished with 329 yards on 14 of 32 passing, threw for 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. He also ran 9 times for 71 yards and a touchdown to lead the Als on the ground.
Marsh didn’t start the game but he sure did finish it.
Montreal went with Josh Neiswander under centre who was making his first CFL start after Anthony Calvillo suffered a concussison in Regina the week before. Neiswander came in relief of Calvillo last week in Saskatchewan and finished 12 of 30 for 147 yards and 2 interceptions.
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Already without Calvillo, RB Brandon Whitaker, OL Scott Flory, OL Andew Woodruff and SB Jamel Richardson, the Als also did not have the services of OT Josh Bourke, WR Brandon London and LB Kyries Hebert.
Both defences came out fast with the Als front seven pressuring quarterback Travis Lulay on the first few possessions, while it was the Leos’ secondary making the first big play of the game on Montreal’s first offensive possession.
After Neiswander found a first down, the youngster had his second pass of the game picked off by veteran DB Ryan Phillips, setting BC up at their own 51 yard line. It was the 36th interception of Phillips’ nine-year career.
The pick helped set up a 45-yard Paul McCallum field goal which he banked in off the left upright.
The Lions would take an early 5-0 lead after an errant punt snapped sailed over the head of kicker Sean Whyte, who wisely kicked it through the back of his own endzone to avoid the turnover.
The snap by FB Patrick Lavoie was his first in the CFL as he filled in for the injured Martin Bedard who normally handles the Montreal long-snapping duties.
Lulay then went to work first finding SB Emmanuel Arceneaux on a crossing route for 22 yards and then WR Courtney Taylor in the flat who made an athletic 14-yard grab. The Lions pivot found WR Shawn Gore a play later for a 10-yard touchdown and a 12-0 lead.
After an Als two-and-out, both clubs traded huge third-down plays.
The Lions kept the ensuing drive alive when McCallum faked a punt and found veteran linebacker Anton McKenzie open for a 13-yard gain and a first down. However, as BC was just outside the redzone, Mike Edem and Jerald Brown teamed up to flush RB Andrew Harris to the outside on third-and-one and forced him to lose yardage and turn over the ball on downs.
The leash on Neiswander was short early on as it took head coach Jim Popp until the end of the first quarter to make a quarterback change. Popp put in Marsh.
The Arkansas Tech product had two drives before being forced to fumble the ball on a QB draw play and DL Jabar Westerman pounced on the loose ball for the Lions.
The turnover led to a 39-yard McCallum field goal which increased the BC lead to 15-0.
Marsh would remain at quarterback and found his way in the final minutes of the first half and did so by stretching the field in a heavy rain storm.
Marsh first found Duron Carter – the son of Pro Football hall of famer Cris Carter – in his debut for 52 yards, then Eric Deslaurier for 20 yards before finding SJ Green in the endzone for a 4-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.
McCallum and the Lions answered with a 45-yard field goal, followed by a 25-yarder set up by a Solomon Elimimian interception to take an 21-7 lead into halftime.
Arland Bruce lll racked up a season-high 167 yards on 7 receptions which put him 10th all time in CFL receiving with 11,187 yards. He surpasses former Edmonton Eskimo Brian Kelly on the all-time list.
The Lions may have held momentum heading into the locker room but the Als took it back off the hop in the third quarter.
Tyron Carrier returned the second half kickoff 72 yards to set Marsh and the Montreal offence up at the BC 27 yard line. A 10-yard Marsh scamper set up a draw play to RB Jerome Messam who powered his way 16 yards for the Alouettes touchdown.
It cut the Lions lead to 21-14 and momentum would start to swing back and forth.
First, Tim Brown fielded a missed Sean Whyte field goal and raced 123 yards for the touchdown. The reigning Special Teams Player of the Week has now returned touchdowns in two consecutive weeks.
Down by 14, Marsh fired right back.
First he found veteran Arland Bruce down the middle of the field for an 86-yard gain, his largest since joining the Als in the off-season. The backup pivot then scrambled outside for a 6-yard touchdown to cut the BC lead to 28-21.
On the previous reception, Bruce moved into 10th on the CFL’s all-time Receiving Yards list.
After the teams traded field goals, they also would counter with a major each.
Lulay marched the Lions down on an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, finding Gore for his second major of the game, this one from 20 yards out.
The Als continued to go punch-for-punch however.
Carrier fielded the ensuing kickoff and bolted 90 yards for the touchdown to cut the Leos lead back to four.
And he wasn’t done there. Two possessions later, Carrier took a punt back 39 yards, stopped only by the kicker McCallum, to set up a 35-yard Whyte field goal. The Lions lead was cut to two, 38-36.
Marsh had a chance to get the Als in a position to kick a game-winning field goal but threw interceptions on two consecutive possessions.
But he would make no mistake on the game’s final drive. On the last play from scrimmage, Marsh stepped back and heaved a ball down field for Deslauriers who hauled in a 57-yard reception.
With one second remaining, Whyte booted a 15-yard field goal to earn the 39-38 win.
Next week, the Lions return home to host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while the Als head to Toronto to open up a home-and-home with the defending Grey Cup Champions.