MONCTON, NB -- Division rivals are set to clash for the first time in 2013 on Saturday, as the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats kickoff Touchdown Atlantic at Moncton Stadium in Moncton, New Brunswick.
This late September clash marks the latest the Als and Ticats have met in a season in 52 years, and with a home playoff game at stake and three of each team’s final seven remaining games against one another, one can expect a feisty atmosphere in the Maritimes.
“We’re gonna approach it like we’ve been approaching it, we need to win the game,” Als head coach Jim Popp told MontrealAlouettes.com. “They’re all must-wins and we need to move up the ladder and secure a playoff spot and win the division and have a bye, home playoff game, and go to the Grey Cup and win it.”
“So we’re approaching it to win the game.”
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While the Tiger-Cats line up Henry Burris and his 179 career starts under centre, the Alouettes turn to Josh Neiswander in search of their two points, as the second-year pivot makes his second career start.
But as Popp and Neiswander both acknowledged this week, it’s not up to the young pivot to worry about what the multi-talented Tiger-Cats quarterback brings to the table. Instead, Neiswander will have to worry about his own game, especially if the Als are to avoid a third straight loss.
“Henry’s a tremendous player but I’m sure Josh is worried about himself and his own team. I don’t think he’s going to be awe-struck, he’s with Anthony Calvillo daily,” Popp told the team’s official website. “Henry’s one of the all-time players in recent history in this league so we know he’s very dangerous, he’s capable of putting up huge numbers.”
“But Josh doesn’t play against him, Henry’s gotta face the defence and Josh has to face the other defence, he’s just got to go out and play his own game, not worry about the other people.”
Even though Burris became just the fifth quarterback in CFL history to eclipse the 50,000 career passing yards mark, Neiswander agreed that there’s no reason to be intimidated by the future Hall of Famer.
“It’s certainly not me versus him,” said the Texas native. “He’s been here so long and I have a lot of respect for him and what he’s done, but it’s just what we are trying to do as an offence versus their defence from an offensive standpoint, and even from a quarterback standpoint.”
That of course doesn’t mean the team won’t have to focus on stopping Burris. The Ticats come into Saturday’s clash on the heels of a last-minute 26-22 loss to the Stampeders in Calgary, but have lost just twice in their last six games by a combined total of seven points.
The Alouettes can expect to see a flashy Ticats offence that can score almost at will, as well as a defence that continues to improve despite being plagued by injury all season.
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“They’re an improving team each week,” said Popp. “They’ve put up some huge numbers offensively, their defence is getting better each week that goes by, they’re doing some different things since the start of the season so this is why they’ve moved up the ladder from their start and they’re one of the tougher teams in the league right now the way they’re playing.”
“So we’ve got our hands full like every week, and it’s about making the plays when you’re called upon and not turning the ball over, no penalties, and the people that do that the cleanest normally win the game and we’ve got to do that.”
After Tanner Marsh was injured in last weekend’s eventual 36-14 loss to the Lions at BC Place, a door opens for Neiswander, whose first career start was somewhat of an enigma. He was pulled after just three passing attempts and an interception, making way for Marsh.
The athletic rookie Marsh eventually led the Alouettes to a thrilling, last-second 39-38 win, earning him the starting role over Neiswander in the following weeks.
Neiswander has a chance to erase the disappointing start to his career, particularly if he can get off to a quick start on Saturday and help his team move into a second-place tie with the Tiger-Cats with a win.
He's not blaming anyone but himself for what went wrong last time hope, and hopes he can make his next start a much better one.
"It’s disappointing for me personally because I felt that I didn’t play well enough to make them want to keep me in, and I think as a competitor that’s the way you have to look at it,” said Neiswander.
“I wish I’d have played better for my team, and had I played better for my team I truly believe they would have left me in so that was my fault for not doing that.”
|The last time they met|
Friday, September 28, 2013
Montreal 28, Hamilton 41
Henry Burris put together a vintage performance, throwing five touchdown passes to lead the Tiger-Cats to a 41-28 win over the Alouettes at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
» Read more.
Whereas the Alouettes are dealing with injuries at the quarterback position, the Ticats have been healthy under centre ever since Burris arrived at the beginning of 2012. Instead Head Coach Kent Austin’s club has been forced to deal with a bevy of injuries elsewhere, particularly in the secondary.
The team has deployed a different combination of starting defensive backs in every single game this season, but while a lack of continuity is a huge challenge for any defence let alone one in the first year of a new system, the Ticats are finding ways to overcome their injury woes.
“The situation is what it is, and so how we handle it, how we address it as a staff, how Orlondo and his guys address it on the defensive side is really important,” Austin told Ticats.ca. “It’s really critical to make sure that everyone gets prepared, and that everyone prepares in a way to be capable of playing at a high level once you get to game time.”
The Ticats remain one of the league’s hottest teams and head into Saturday’s clash in Moncton with plenty of motivation, needing a win to remain all alone in second place as well as to keep pace with the first-place Argonauts.
The team had every opportunity to win last week before being shutout 10-0 in the fourth quarter en-route to a 26-22 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on the road.
It was another stellar performance as usual offensively, and the team also stood tall defensively to nearly end Calgary’s home winning streak. But in the end the Ticats couldn’t overcome a late interception by Burris, as the Stamps took a late lead on a touchdown by Marquay McDaniel.
One thing the 'Cats have been able to do all season is bounce back from difficult losses, which is exactly what they’ll look to do in this week’s pivotal divisional meeting.
“We’re two teams that are definitely battling for poll position as far as right now to stay in sole possession of second place, and keep ourselves within striking distance of Toronto,” said Burris, who threw for 408 yards and a pair of touchdowns against his former team.
“We’ve got to get on a consistent level offensively as far as executing and taking good care of the ball. I had that one play that I regretted last game but that play is also going to make me better,” he continued. “But it’s all about us executing consistently, putting points on the board, and trying to put pressure on the opposing team’s offence.”
Saturday’s contest meanwhile marks the second time the Ticats have traveled to New Brunswick to take part in Touchdown Atlantic, where they’ll look to improve to 2-0. Their last trip was in 2011, when they put up big points in a 55-36 win over the Stamps.
This season they’re already used to playing home games outside of Hamilton, but if you ask Austin, the team still faces the challenge of playing in an unfamiliar environment with what could be a distraction.
“It’s in that category, but at the end of the day we’ve got two football teams that are going to be on a football field playing on the same field with the same lines and same markers, and our guys need to play.”
And of course in the end, Austin wants an exciting game for the fans on the East Coast; although, not too exciting.
“Hopefully we play a great game in all three areas and that showcases the talent properly while we’re focusing on our job, and that is to win the football game,” said Austin, who’s mostly concerned with getting his team two points.
“I think we’ve been a pretty entertaining team up to this point just by the nature of what we do and who’s doing it, so hopefully it’ll be a good exciting game and we don’t want it too exciting.”
Kickoff is at 4:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from MontrealAlouettes.com/Ticats.ca