MONTREAL – When they were 1-7 in August, it was far-fetched even to think about the Montreal Alouettes making the playoffs.
But a 17-14 win over the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday afternoon lifted the Alouettes to 9-8 to clinch a home playoff date. They have a chance to finish first in the CFL East Division with a regular season-ending win on Saturday in Hamilton.
“It’s going to be a great Grey Cup documentary,” said receiver Duran Carter, who had career highs of 11 catches and 181 yards. “Highlights, low lights, all of it.
“We feel pretty much unstoppable. We’ve got one more week in the regular season and we’re not going to take our foot off the gas.”
Carter scored the game-winning touchdown on a 23-yard toss from Jonathan Crompton at 5:41 of the fourth quarter. A relentless Alouettes defence did the rest, holding an opponent to 17 or fewer points for a sixth game in a row, all wins.
They will be the first CFL team ever to finish at or above .500 after being six games below .500.
A win in Hamilton would give Montreal first place and a bye to the East final, while a loss may drop them to second and see them host the East semifinal against a crossover team from the West Division.
The loss pushed Toronto (7-10) to the brink of elimination. They must win their finale against Ottawa and hope Montreal beats the Tiger-Cats (8-9) to stay alive.
“We weren’t good on second and medium,” said Argonauts coach Scott Milanovich. “Coming up a yard short, not getting to the sticks. That is why we weren’t able to score more points.
“Too many times in the second half we weren’t able to get enough to keep the drive moving.”
Tyrell Sutton ran in a TD for Montreal and Sean Whyte had a field goal, although his string of 21 in a row ended with a 45-yard attempt against a stiff wind.
Mike Bradwell caught a one-yard TD pass from third string quarterback Mitchell Gale and Swayze Waters had two boots for the Argonauts.
Starting quarterback Ricky Ray, who completed 26 of 35 passes for 209 yards and was sacked three times, left with 2:29 to go in the game after he was slammed into the turf by John Bowman to end Toronto’s comeback hopes. Milanovich had no update on his condition.
As the game ended, the crowd of 22,013 at Percival Molson Stadium stood and cheered the Alouettes, as much for what they’ve done over the last three months as for winning the game.
Coach Tom Higgins said the turnaround came on a road trip to Regina and Winnipeg in August. While they didn’t win those games, they felt were playing better and vowed to try for an 8-2 record over the final 10 games to make the playoffs. They are 8-1 since then.
“I feel good for the organization,” said Higgins. “It’s an organization that’s used to winning and wrapping up a playoff spot a lot earlier.
“It just took us a little while and we got it done. But it’s a neat story that’s being written by this football team. They just don’t give up. That’s the sign of a champion.”
The turnaround coincided with Crompton taking over as the starting quarterback. While he isn’t the slickest QB in the league, he has managed to move the ball enough and put up enough points to win, thanks largely to the defence.
He completed 13 of 26 passes for 251 yards, nearly all of them to Carter. There was one completion each to Eric Deslauriers and S.J. Green, and third stringer Tanner Marsh completed one to Green.
But Crompton overthrew a wide open Carter on what would have been a sure touchdown, and a trick play saw Green fire a 50-yard pass that went off a wide open Carter’s fingertips.
“We’ve been waiting to run that forever and they finally call it and I just misjudged it,” said Carter, who also had a fumble on his record. “I thought it was coming right in my hands and it was little bit far.
“It’s terrible. I owe receiver money for that. If you ask me, I had a bad game. I’m just fortunate they trust me with the ball.”
Crompton said he was looking for whoever Toronto left open and that happened to be Carter most of the time.
“That says a lot about him and about our receiving corps not to staying anything,” said Crompton. “They knew that if we’re getting one on one, no matter who it is, we’re going to take a shot. The guys did a good job running their routes, and especially blocking on the run game.”
Sutton carried 23 times for 135 yards.
Wind was a factor and Toronto got the only points of a flag-free first quarter on Waters’s 21-yard kick.
The Alouettes used the wind on a six-play 69 yard drive capped by Sutton’s 17-yard TD run up the middle 4:02 into the second.
A punt single off Carter’s fumble and a 56 yard drive into the wind led to Bradwell’s one-yard TD catch at the end of the second quarter gave the Argonauts an 11-7 half time lead.
Waters added a 25-yard boot 12:09 into the third after the Alouettes lost a gamble on third and 3, when ball carrier J.C. Beaulieu came up a yard short.
Montreal got three back to open the fourth, and then Crompton led a four-play drive topped by a toss over the middle to Carter.
Toronto got a last chance with the ball when Waters got to his own punt for an extra set of downs, but backup QB Trevor Harris was unable to move the ball.
“At the beginning of the year, everybody wasn’t on the same page,” said Alouettes defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash. “We were missing too many tackles, blowing assignments. But as the year went on, we came together. I think we are the best defence in the CFL.”
Montreal defensive back Geoff Tisdale left late in the first half with a concussion after a kick in the head while defending a pass. Higgins said holding him out was a precaution and Tisdale may be ready to return against Hamilton.
The Argos lost defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (foot) and defensive back Vincent Agnew (left leg) to injuries. In the fourth, linebacker Matt Ware was helped off.