EDMONTON — In a game that many had pegged to be crucial for both sides involved, the Montreal Alouettes came out flying and never landed, earning a convincing 47-24 win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.
Quarterback Josh Neiswander registered his second-career win, completing 15 of his 25 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns, while Arland Bruce and SJ Green collected two scores apiece to help the Alouettes register their highest point total of the season.
Defensively, the Als came up big once again. Jerald Brown notched his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season, while Chip Cox added 4 more to his league-lead in tackles and had one interception.
All the talk heading into today’s matchup surrounded Eskimos pivot Mike Reilly, who was knocked out of last week’s tilt against Toronto after taking a hit to the head from Argos defensive lineman Cleyon Laing.
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Reilly, along with backup pivots Jonathan Crompton and Kerry Joseph all shared first-team reps at practice this week.
On Friday, however, Reilly was deemed medically cleared to play by Edmonton’s training staff, and was announced as the starter just hours before kickoff on Saturday.
Despite having just six days to recover and prepare, Reilly showed no ill-effects on the Esks’ first possession of the game, as he connected with receiver Adarius Bowman for 25-yard gain on their second play of the game.
However, Reilly and the offence were unable to move the chains a second time, and were forced to settle for a field goal attempt, which was missed by Hugh O’Neill and taken out of the endzone by the Alouettes to keep the game tied at 0 apiece.
But the scoreless draw wouldn’t last long.
Making his third-straight start, Neiswander wasted little time in making an impact, as he found receiver Brandon London for a 54-yard reception to bring the Als inside Edmonton’s 35 yard line.
After gains of 16 and 12 by Jerome Messam and Bruce, Neiswander completed a six-yard strike to Green in the endzone, giving the Als an early 7-0 lead.
Trying to respond with a score of their own, Reilly and Edmonton’s offence ran into some trouble on their ensuing possession.
Nine plays into an impressive drive that saw them move into Montreal territory, Reilly heaved a pass in Fred Stamps’ direction, but saw the ball picked out of the air by Brown.
The interception was Brown’s fourth of the season, pushing him into a tie with Geoff Tisdale for the team-lead.
Reilly’s turnover proved to be a costly one for the Esks.
Taking over from their own 31 yard line, Neiswander again went big on the first play of the drive, this time hooking up with Bruce for a 62-yard catch-and-run gain, bringing the Als into Edmonton territory once again.
Two plays later, Green found the endzone for a second time, hauling in a 22-yard pass for the touchdown.
With the win, the Alouettes stayed just two points behind the Tiger-Cats for second place in the East Division and home-field advantage in the Eastern Semi-Final.
On his way to the endzone, Green fumbled the ball, but managed to recover it before any Edmonton player had the opportunity to make an attempt at it.
But Montreal’s first-half prowess didn’t stop there.
Following a 24-yard field goal by O’Neill to get the Esks on the board, Neiswander went back to work on extending Montreal’s lead.
The 26-year-old proceeded to orchestrate another impressive drive, leading the Als 74 yards downfield on 10 plays before Troy Smith plunged forward from one yard out for the Als’ third-touchdown of the half.
Montreal would tack on another touchdown before the first 30 minutes came to an end, as Bruce hauled in a seven-yard reception for his second major of the season.
The two teams went into the half with Montreal leading 31-3.
After a rough first half that saw him throw three interceptions, Reilly started the second half on the sidelines, giving way for Crompton to take over.
However, Crompton didn’t fare much better against a tough Montreal defence.
In a third quarter that saw very little offence on both sides of the ball, Crompton threw two interceptions, one to Tisdale and another to Brown before the quarter expired.
The Alouettes would add to their lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Taking over from Edmonton’s 21 yard line following the Brown interception, Neiswander heaved a 21-yard pass in the endzone towards Bruce on second down.
Bruce managed to fight off coverage by Eric Samuels and bring down pass to extend Montreal’s lead to 36.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Eskimos would finally reach the endzone, as Crompton found sophomore Shamawd Chambers for a 31-yard touchdown.
Later, Chambers scored his second touchdown of the quarter to cut Montreal’s lead to 23.
On Montreal’s next possession, Smith – who Jim Popp had inserted into the game to get some reps – saw his pass deflected and intercepted by Joe Burnett. The cornerback returned the pick 56 yards to Montreal’s three yard line, giving Edmonton excellent field position for their next possession.
Three plays later, Crompton found Stamps in the endzone to pull within 16 of the Alouettes’ lead.
But with 1:24 to go, Montreal officially put the game out of reach, as tailback Tyrell Sutton scored on a seven-yard touchdown scamper.
The win by Montreal keeps them within striking distance of the Tiger-Cats for second place in the East Division and home-field advantage in the Eastern Semi-Final. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Als now have a lengthy six-point lead over the Eskimos who were threatening to catch Montreal for the final playoff spot by way of a crossover.
Next week, the Als return home to Percival Molson Stadium to take on the Blue Bombers on Thanksgiving Monday, while the Eskimos visit Regina to take on the Roughriders.