MONTREAL — It’s early in the CFL season to talk of a “must win” game, but that’s how it may be for the Montreal Alouettes.
The Alouettes and the Ottawa REDBLACKS are both 1-7 and are on extended losing streaks, but Ottawa is an expansion team that didn’t have high expectations.
A loss at home to the newcomers, their closest geographic rivals and a team they must beat to have any hope of taking a playoff spot in East Division, would be devastating for Montreal, although centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain doesn’t see it that way.
“For me, every game is a must win,” said Brodeur-Jourdain. “I don’t see it as ‘Ottawa is an expansion club so it’s a must-win.’
“We must win every game. We must be there and clinch first place in the East and go into the playoffs with momentum. We have to get out of this black hole we’re in right now.”
The Alouettes face the REDBLACKS on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium, where Ottawa beat them 26-10 in a pre-season game when Henry Burris went 17-for-22 and running back Chevon Walker scored three touchdowns.
Montreal has lost six in a row, while Ottawa’s losing run is at five.
The Alouettes return home after losses at Saskatchewan and Winnipeg in which the defence was mostly solid but the offence continued to struggle.
The ongoing search for a replacement for retired future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo took another twist as former Edmonton Eskimo Jonathan Crompton showed some promise at quarterback when he replaced starter Alex Brink in the second quarter in Winnipeg.
Crompton, the fourth pivot to see action this season, is to get is first CFL start against the REDBLACKS.
“The main difference is his level of communication during the game,” said Brodeur-Jourdain. “He’s communicating well, trying to be loud and clear.
“He shows a lot of confidence. But I honestly think the four quarterbacks we have are the same. We just need time to develop.”
Time is starting to run short. The game marks the end of the first half of the regular season for both teams.
Luckily for them, the division has not had the best start and both teams, as well as Hamilton, are only four points behind first-place Toronto. It is looking almost certain that there will be a crossover team from the West in the East playoffs, so finishing in the top two is essential.
It’s been a shock for Burris.
“I’ve been in this thing for 14 years and I’ve never seen this type of discrepancy between the East and the West,” he said. “I thought Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton would be duking it out and we’d be doing what we can to get better as the season went on.
“But we’ll take this. There are enough games left in the season to overcome what we’ve done in the past and try to get ourselves going and make a run at the playoffs.”
The Alouettes may have caught a break when receiver Weston Dressler, cut this week after an NFL tryout, turned down Ottawa’s offer and returned to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Like Burris, Dressler has been particularly productive against Montreal in his career.
The REDBLACKS are coming off losses at home of 32-7 last week against Calgary and 10-8 against Edmonton on Aug. 15. Their win was over Toronto by 18-17 at home on July 18.
Now they have a shot at a first road victory against another one-win team.
“Both sides know this is a big game,” said Burris. “It’s a great opportunity for each team to get momentum on their side.
“Both teams are looking for a positive spark. Of course, we feel we’re the team that deserves it, but it’s all about which team gets the job done. Montreal and us are in the same situation and are working our butts off to get up off this doormat.”
The Alouettes have not lost more than 10 games in a season since they returned to Montreal after a 10-year hiatus in 1996, but they will need a major turnaround to avoid that.
Fans are losing patience with the quarterbacks and first-year coach Tom Higgins, and the shouts for change will grow louder with another loss.
Technically, it may not be a must-win, but it certainly feels like it.
“I can say we played our best football the last two games,” said Higgins. “Yeah, they’re an expansion team, but they have a more experienced quarterback than we do.
“We’re at home. We have to win at home. We have to beat an eastern club and get on the winning side of some games. So we can call it whatever we want. We’re going to line up and try to win a game.”