MONTREAL -- The Als and Lions are set to kick off Scotiabank Labour Day Weekend on Friday night, as the league’s top teams clash at Percival Molson Stadium.
It’ll be the first time this season that Travis Lulay and Anthony Calvillo meet, who each earned Most Outstanding Player and runner-up honours respectively last season. It’s a battle of one of the greatest ever and one of the league’s brightest young stars, and they both enter Friday looking to keep impressive streaks alive.
Lulay will look for a touchdown pass in his 20th straight game, while Calvillo will look to make it eight straight games this season with 300 or more passing yards.
For the latter, that’ll mean having to beat one of the most impressive defences the league has seen in a very long time, as the Lions are coming off yet another solid performance after edging out the Bombers on a last-second Paul McCallum field goal.
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The Lions have given up just one touchdown and 39 points in the last four games, and will be hungry to prove their worth against the league’s hottest offence coming in.
“Their back end is outstanding, and their front seven are big, strong, and fast,” said Head Coach Marc Trestman, now in his fifth year as an Alouette. “They’ve got good players that play at a very high level, they make very few mistakes back there, they’re in the right places, and they run to the ball.”
The toughest task will be solving a secondary with as much experience and star power as BCs, which boasts the likes of Donte Marsh, Byron Parker, Ryan Phillips, and Korey Banks among others.
“They’ve got the most experience in the league,” said Trestman. “They’re really loaded back there. They play a lot of zone coverage, they’re very smart, they’re always in the right place, and they can play zone.”
Trestman said while the Lions do play a lot of zone and usually only rush four or five guys, they have more than enough talent in the secondary to send extra guys too.
“They’re a four and five man rushing team, they’re not a big blitzing team, but they rush five sometimes six and they give you headaches because they bring (Banks) or their Sam backer and make it tough on the edges.”
The Lions have been a difficult team to solve for any quarterback out there, especially as of late, after allowing fewer than 10 points in three of their last four games.
But if anyone can figure it out, it would be 40-year-old Calvillo and the surging Alouettes offence. The 15th-year Alouette leads the CFL with 2,657 yards this season to go with 18 touchdowns. Meanwhile, he’s managed to complete 64 per cent of his throws, with just six interceptions.
Despite being the league’s all-time leading passer, he’s only eclipsed 6,000 yards in a single season once during his illustrious career. So far, he’s on pace to add another.
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Part of Calvillo’s success may stem from the fact that Montreal’s offence is the most balanced this season than it’s been since coach Trestman arrived with the Alouettes – on top of searching for an eighth straight 300-yard passing game from Calvillo, the Als will also be looking for a fourth straight 100-yard rushing game from the tailback position.
“We’re doing some exciting things,” said Calvillo. “The coaches are maximizing our offence, coming up with plays to get guys open.”
“We’re very balanced, no matter the running back, and have a solid offensive line,” he added. “We’re rushing more, and the offensive linemen love that. It’s throwing defences off by running. Because we’re balanced, that causes defences some issues.”
The Lions, ranked tops in the league in 17 defensive categories, will give Calvillo his toughest test yet – but if the future Hall of Famer manages to throw for 300 yards for an eighth straight game, he’ll break Doug Flutie’s record of seven straight back in 1991 when he was a BC Lion.
That BC secondary is giving up a league-best 223 yards through the air per game this season, while also leading the league in quarterback sacks. But, while the Lions have had no issues frustrating the likes of Ricky Ray, Henry Burris, and Darian Durant, Head Coach Mike Benevides won’t be taking Calvillo lightly.
“Anthony Calvillo is one of the best, if not the best that’s ever played in this league,” the rookie head coach said. “Anthony never surprises me. He’s a competitor, he’s an ultimate pro, and he’s someone that I have utmost respect for, just because of what he’s done – every year you play him he amazes you.”
While the talk going into Friday’s contest focuses on the matchup between the BC defence and the Montreal offence, the Lions will be thinking about getting back on track themselves offensively.
Lulay led the Lions to a 10-0 lead before the half, but in the second half was picked off twice, opening the door for the Bombers to almost steal one.
|The last time they met|
The Lions made sure they were well-prepared for the playoffs heading into their first-round bye, as Travis Lulay tossed four touchdown passes in a 43-1 win over the Alouettes at BC Place. Lulay had 280 yards through the air and ran for 51 more, while the speedy Tim Brown impressed on the ground with 96 yards on 10 carries.
“Anytime you play not as well as you want to, you cannot wait to get back on the field to find a way to overcome that,” said Lulay, who went 16-26 for 220 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but also led the last-second drive to set-up a Paul McCallum winning field goal.
Montreal’s defence has shown steady improvement compared to the first few weeks of the season, when they allowed 100 points in the opening three games. Last week they kept the league’s highest-scoring offence below 30 points to come away with an impressive 31-29 win on a game-winning field goal from Sean Whyte.
“Obviously they have a ton of weapons and Anthony’s playing as well as he’s ever played, he’s playing great football, but defensively they’re a lot better than they were in the first couple weeks of the season,” said Lulay.
“You can tell just defensively they’ve got a new coordinator, a new scheme and the defensive side of the ball is where you can see the big difference in their football team,” he added. “So we’ll have to play well to win.”
While the Lions enter the game with a fairly clean bill of health, the Als will be getting some help on offence as star receiver Jamel Richardson is expected to play after sitting out with an injured hamstring.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Postmedia and Alouettes.com/BCLions.com
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|