VANCOUVER — The Montreal Alouettes and BC Lions meet for the second and final time this season on Saturday night, as the Lions look to earn the series split at BC Place.
Only two weeks removed from a 24-9 loss to the Alouettes in Montreal that Head Coach Mike Benevides called ‘embarrassing’, the third-year head coach is excited for his team to get back on the field and face its demons.
“We’ve gotta do better because last time we were terrible,” Benevides told BCLions.com. “They present a tremendous challenge, the only way the Winnipeg Blue Bombers found a way to win was they scored a couple of touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball.”
“It’s tough, tough sledding against that group but we’ve gotta stay patient and I think our guys understand what we need to do.”
It’s not often a Week 4 game against a cross-division opponent holds tremendous weight, but the pressure was dialed up for the Lions early following two quick losses to open the season. In the year they host the 102nd Grey Cup on home turf in November, things got off to a rocky start.
A 26-13 win on the road in Riderville last weekend over the defending Grey Cup Champions did plenty to alleviate some of the weight on Benevides and his club, as a dominant defensive performance supported by a stellar running game led to their first win of the season.
Now it’s about not only carrying that momentum forward, but proving any challenge can be overcome despite past results.
“It’s a large game for both teams, I can’t under-accentuate the importance of trying to keep that momentum going from last week,” Benevides said in his pre-game press conference. “It was an outstanding victory for our football team in a tough place against the champions, but that’s in the rear-view mirror.”
“Now we have to deal with a team that embarrassed us a couple of weeks ago.”
Kevin Glenn, the backup to Travis Lulay while the former Most Outstanding Player recovers from off-season shoulder surgery, was under immense pressure all night.
The Alouettes recorded five sacks, including four from John Bowman, while Glenn was picked off twice and running back Stefan Logan fumbled. What’s worse, the offence’s usual crutch – its dynamic running game – was absent as the two-headed monster Logan and Andrew Harris combined for just 54 yards on 13 carries.
Yet despite an injury-depleted offensive line that this week will include Hunter Steward, a 22-year-old rookie tackle about to make his first career start, the Lions turned all of that around last weekend at Mosaic Stadium.
Glenn was sacked just twice in that game while Harris and Logan combined for 185 yards on the ground, as the Lions controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball – something they’ll need to repeat in order to come away with a win in the rematch with Montreal.
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“Every team is built up front, whether it’s the defensive line or offensive line it’s built in the trenches and when you have guys and they put out effort like last week the majority of the time you win,” Glenn said. “That’s something we want to stress, we want to be aggressive especially with this team because this team is built on aggressiveness.”
“We want to match that, we want to fight aggression with aggression.”
The running backs also had plenty to do with last weekend’s success, particularly Harris who earned Top Offensive and Canadian Player of the Week honours for his efforts that included 203 yards from scrimmage and an additional 29 return yards.
“After the week we got embarrassed in Montreal I just took it personally to make an impact, I was miserable all week because I had a bad taste in my mouth so I just came with an attitude and attacked every play,” Harris said. “When you have space and you have that attitude everything seems to work out.”
Harris has 47 touches and leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 368 yards on 47 touches, and when he’s clicking it becomes difficult to keep the Lions off the field.
“We controlled the ball, we had a lot of possession time and we put together some good drives and that’s so crucial,” Harris continued. “We definitely took a step in the right direction, now it’s building on that performance and continuing to build confidence.”
“You want to slowly get better as the year gets along and not peak too early so I think it was a step in the right direction.”
Expect the Alouettes to play with just as much purpose as the Lions. Their defence has been excellent as advertised, but penalty troubles have plagued the team along with growing pains from a second-year quarterback and first-year scheme on offence.
They appeared to have a major building block with the win over BC two weeks ago, but a last-minute loss to the Bombers last weekend in which they surrendered the game-winning touchdown on third down with 29 seconds remaining has left a bitter taste.
“We couldn’t finish,” Tom Higgins told MontrealAlouettes.com. “Before you can win you can’t beat yourself.”
|Last time they met|
The Alouettes got touchdowns from both sides of the ball early and didn’t look back as Montreal topped the BC Lions 24-9 back in Week 2 at Percival Molson Stadium.
“There were way too many penalties, that hurt, but I think it was a good football team out on the field and we’re getting better, but it would feel better if we could have finished that drive and not let it go in for a touchdown.”
It was a game the Alouettes otherwise deserved to win. Their offence looked better than it has all season, with former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Their efforts though were thwarted by a pair of defensive touchdowns by the Bombers, one on a fumble and one on an interception each from the hands of Smith. For the 29-year-old there comes a point when moral victories just aren’t enough.
“We took some strides but we have to understand that even though you take strides, it doesn’t mean anything in the big scheme of things if you don’t win,” Smith told the team’s official website. “You can take minor things away but it still stings.”
“It’s bittersweet because the touchdown passes don’t mean anything if you don’t get a win. I’d rather get a win and have no touchdown passes.”
Regardless of the result in the last meeting between these teams, the Alouettes aren’t about to take anyone lightly. The Lions are one of the league’s strongest home teams, and they’ll be keen on getting that first win of the season at BC Place in the wake of an emotional road win.
“It’s going to be a very good challenge for us, we anticipate them trying to do exactly what they did in Saskatchewan – play with a great deal of emotion, try to balance out their offensive attack, run the football and take pressure off the quarterback,” Higgins said.
“I think they’ll be a lot better and it’ll be a good football game.”
– Since trailing Montreal 14-0 after the first quarter in their second game, the Lions have allowed only 23 points in seven quarters and just one offensive touchdown in 27 possessions, forcing 13 two-and-outs in the process.
– Since 2008 the Lions have eclipsed 150 yards on the ground 25 times, going 18-7 in those games and 11-1 the last 12 times. When Harris gets at least 10 carries, the Lions are 22-2 in his career.
– The Lions led the Riders last week for 55:49 of the game, forcing the Roughriders five times to start inside their own 20. Midway through the game the Lions forced six straight two-and-outs.
– While discipline is a league-wide issue, it hasn’t been for the Lions. They’ve drawn the fewest penalties in the league at just 9.7 per game, compared to the league average of almost 13 per game.
– The Lions’ turnover ratio is minus-five this season (plus-one in last week’s win and minus-six in the two losses).
– BC sits number two in starting field position (their own 41-yard-line), thanks to a league-leading eight punts inside the opponents’ 20 by Ricky Schmitt.
– The Als allowed only 70 net yards in the first half last time these teams met, and just 153 through the first three quarters in building a 20-3 edge heading into the fourth quarter.
– Brandon Whitaker ranks third in the CFL in rushing after three weeks, with 203 yards and four runs of 10 or more yards. He is 185 yards shy of 3,000 in his career.
– Troy Smith’s 300-yard effort in last week’s loss was the second in his career, while his three touchdowns marked his first scores of 2014. He’ll make his seventh career CFL start on Saturday.
– Chip Cox has 11 defensive tackles this season and recently passed Kelly Wiltshire to become the 11th-leading all-time tackler with 613. He’s 25 behind Shannon Garrett’s 638.
Kickoff is at 7:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed LIVE with CFL.ca Gamecast.
– With files from BCLions.com/MontrealAlouettes.com