THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL -- Life without star running back Brandon Whitaker begins this week for the Montreal Alouettes in what will likely be their most important game of the CFL regular season.
The Alouettes will play host to the Toronto Argonauts with first place in the East Division on the line at Percival Molson Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
An Argonaut win would not only tie the teams at 7-5, but would give Toronto the season series between the two teams, which would be the first tiebreaker if they finish equal in points . The Argonauts handed Montreal its only home loss this season 23-20 on July 27. They have one more meeting Oct. 14 in Toronto.
|Related: Argos at Alouettes|
» Video: Argos at Alouettes preview
» East Division race heating up
» Whitaker out for season with torn ACL
» Argos take matters into their own hands
» Calvillo looking for more from offence
» Argos 'not into moral victories'
» Ticats' Campbell earns weekly honour
» Top 10 plays of Week 12
» Week 13 CFL.ca Game Notes
» Last week for the Alouettes
» Last week for the Argos
» Tickets: Argos at Alouettes
Whitaker, Montreal's rushing leader who is also third on the team in receiving yards, saw his season end with a right knee injury late in a 28-17 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week.
His replacement is Victor Anderson, a similarly smaller but shifty back who topped 100 yards rushing in his only start when Whitaker missed a game Aug. 17 against Edmonton.
"All eyes are on the Alouettes and Argonauts, it's not about me," Anderson said Saturday. "I'll just try to do what I need to do to help our team win.
"We lost Brandon. He's a great running back. One of the best in the league. We've got to approach it like it's our last game and to give it our all."
The Alouettes also lost receiver Brian Bratton to a less-serious knee injury, but will have one of quarterback Anthony Calvillo's favourite targets back when Brandon London returns after missing two games.
Running back Chad Kackert will return to Toronto's lineup after missing one game, but coach Scott Milanovich opted to hold injured receiver Andre Durie out for a third straight game.
Milanovich, who was offensive coordinator in Montreal last season when Whitaker led the CFL in rushing, doesn't expect to see the Alouettes' vaunted offence suffer too much.
"I assume the guy they put in there will be very similar to Brandon," he said. "They'll miss Brian's leadership, but they get London back, so we don't expect them to miss a beat and it won't change what we do."
However, it is potentially devastating, mentally as much as strategically, to lose a multi-skilled player like Whitaker, and coach Marc Trestman said its effect will only be known when the season is played out.
"This team has had a great mindset that, when someone goes down, it's an opportunity for the next guy," he said. "We try to turn it into a psychological positive.
"Brandon Whitaker is a difference-maker, an elite player in our league. But we shall see. We've been without him for a game and Victor Anderson played very effectively. It's a different week. He's got to do it on a consistent basis. But I think our team will capture the moment and give Victor the opportunity he deserves."
The Alouettes' chief concern will be stopping Argonaut slotback and kick returner Chad Owens, who has amassed 1,534 combined yards and six touchdowns in seven meetings with Montreal.
|What are the writers saying?|
|» Owens brings his best when playing former team
» Anderson the 'lion' knows his horses
In the past two seasons, Owens became the first player ever with consecutive 3,000 combined yards. With 2,695 after 11 games this season, he is on pace to top 4,000 yards.
In their meeting this season in Montreal, Owens piled up 277 yards and scored two TDs.
The Honolulu native will be a prominent figure Sunday when Toronto visits Montreal, but he says he's never had an axe to grind against the Alouettes.
"I go out each and every week and try to be the very best I can be," Owens said. "I've had pretty good games against them but it's nothing more than that because I'm not that type of person.
"I just go out and enjoy what I do. I'm blessed to have this opportunity to play and I'm trying to make the best of it every time I have the chance to."
Owens quickly became a CFL star in Toronto, being named the league's top special-teams performer in 2010 and last year becoming the first player in pro football history to surpass 3,000 combined yards in consecutive seasons. But the 30-year-old has been even better in 2012.
Through 11 games, Owens has amassed 2,695 all-purpose yards (245-yard average) and is on pace to finish with a whopping 4,410 yards. That would obliterate Mike (Pinball) Clemons's league record of 3,840 yards.
Owens remains a special-teams dynamo, leading the CFL in kickoff returns and third in punt returns. But he's also become a significant offensive producer, standing second overall in receiving with 67 catches for a career-best 938 yards and five TDs.
Owens needs just four more catches to achieve another career-high. He credits his offensive production to new head coach Scott Milanovich's approach and quarterback Ricky Ray -- obtained from Edmonton last December -- successfully executing it.
"I pride myself in working hard every off-season and coming back better than I was the year before," Owens said. "With coach Milanovich here and bringing in this offence and Ricky being here, it really gives me an opportunity to showcase what I can do offensively with a quarterback in the offence who suits my abilities.
"We've struggled for a few years but it just feels so good to be able to go out there and be one of the best in the league offensively."
|The last time they met|
Friday, July 27, 2012
Toronto 23 - Montreal 20
Chad Owens' big first half was the difference maker, as the Toronto Argonauts downed the hometown Montreal Alouettes 23-20 on Friday night. Owens registered 97-yards on seven-receptions for two touchdowns, while Toronto QB Ricky Ray continued his solid start to the season, racking up 280 yards and two touchdown passes on 20 receptions.
Alouettes defensive back Dwight Anderson said Owens has been especially effective playing slotback rather than receiver this season.
"I think Scott went over there and basically figured out his best position would be inside," said Anderson. "At the wide receiver spot, you have more chance to get hands on him.
"To me, he's more quick than fast. A lot of guys get caught thinking his speed will get you. In a straight line, he's not as fast as people think he is. As long as you can get hands on him to slow him down, you've got a better shot. If you give him space, you let him use his quickness and then you get in trouble."
There will certainly be motivation on both sides of the ball. Finishing first in the division brings a bye and home field advantage to the division final.
"You're running out of time," said Argos quarterbacks Ricky Ray. "That's why these games are so important.
"Now it's really where you can create separation or get yourself back into it. For us, there's a lot riding on it. If we win, we've got the season series. If we don't, we're a couple of games behind and we're coming from behind for the rest of the year. Our goal is to win this game and think about what happens after that."
Trestman is quick to point out that regardless who wins, there will still be six games left to play for each team.
"I told the guys that winning or losing this game doesn't determine who plays in the championship game at the end of the year, so we can't take it too far out of proportion," he said. "It's significant in the standings, but it doesn't dictate who is going to come out with the upper hand.
"We just want to grow as a football team and try to play good, solid, clean football."
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|