MONTREAL -- The Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa REDBLACKS each look to move up in the standings on Friday night, as they meet at Percival-Molson Stadium to kick off an exciting slate of Labour Day Weekend games.
Both teams are coming off less-than-desirable starts to the season, but with others in the division off to similar starts they have an opportunity to put that behind them and start paving the road to a playoff appearance. Some say the CFL season truly starts on Labour Day, and for these two teams as well as the entire East Division that couldn’t be truer.
“It’s against an Eastern opponent, and we need to start winning,” Head Coach Tom Higgins told MontrealAlouettes.com. “We understand, we are 1-7 and after Friday we’d like to be 2-7.”
“Not that we’re trying to put any more pressure on yourself, but when you line up to play professional sports it’s about winning.”
That’s something the Alouettes haven’t done since Week 2, when they held the BC Lions to just a touchdown and a field goal on the way to a 24-9 home win back on July 4th. Since then they’ve lost six straight, but in the last two weeks showed signs of resurgence.
In a challenging trip out West to face Saskatchewan and then Winnipeg, the Alouettes stayed close with two strong teams late into the fourth quarter, eventually losing by a combined 13 points. Against the Bombers last weekend they led through most of the game, but after being outscored 16-3 in the fourth quarter wound up falling 24-16.
Most indicative of a possible change in direction for Montreal might be the possible emergence of a true starting quarterback, after Jonathan Crompton took over to start the second quarter last weekend and thrived. Despite throwing three interceptions, including two on deflections, the 27-year-old was comfortable in the offence and showed a penchant for making big plays.
“We made some good plays; we made some strides as an offence and as a team on all three phases,” said Crompton despite the loss. “We have to stay the course.”
“This was overdue,” he added on his first chance at extended playing time. “Obviously there are some nerves, but it was exciting. It was fun.”
In a season where the Als have struggled to find consistency from the quarterback position, Crompton, at the very least, caught the attention of his coaching staff.
“The ball comes out of his hands really well,” said Offensive Coordinator Ryan Dinwiddie. “He drives the ball, and I didn’t know much about him, he got here late – that’s why we wanted to get him in last week and just see what he had, and he was hot and he moved the ball.”
Dinwiddie noted a malfunction in the microphone in Crompton’s helmet right before halftime, meaning the plays had to be relayed to the quarterback from the sideline – yet Crompton brushed the issues aside and completed four of five passes on the drive, leading to a last-play field goal heading into the half.
“For him to handle that and get us down there and get some points on the board, I was impressed by that.”
That gave the Alouettes a 6-1 lead at halftime, but it was squandered early in the third quarter after a two-and-out was followed by a blocked punt and subsequent touchdown return by Winnipeg’s special teams.
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Crompton engineered a scoring drive midway through the third to regain the lead, then when the Bombers took the lead in the fourth he setup another go-ahead score on a Sean Whyte field goal. In the end though Montreal’s defence couldn’t hold, as Nic Grigsby’s 26-yard touchdown sealed the Alouettes’ fate.
The former Eskimo quarterback, after throwing for 266 yards on 18-29 passing in only three quarters of week, will get a chance to earn his first Alouettes win this weekend against a stingy REDBLACKS defence that’s getting better each week. He hasn’t been handed the permanent job, but a big performance here could give him a huge leg up.
“We’re on a path to hopefully finding a solution,” Higgins said of the team’s quarterback situation. “No three quarters will make an opportunity to make decisions, but by all accounts he did very well.”
“He did very well in practice and we want to give him a shot, but don’t be surprised if Alex [Brink] can still find himself on the field.”
While the Alouettes figure out whether Crompton could be their franchise quarterback, the REDBLACKS are standing behind theirs despite last weekend’s 32-7 home loss to the Calgary Stampeders. Henry Burris was expected to be the big strongpoint for Ottawa this season, but so far the defence has been playing lights out while the offence has struggled to produce.
Despite the final score, the REDBLACKS trailed just 11-7 heading into the fourth quarter, giving them every opportunity to win the game. But a Jonathan Williams tipped ball interception touchdown in the first quarter that gave Ottawa a 7-0 lead was the only scoring for the REDBLACKS as the offence failed to score a single point.
“We do,” rookie head coach Rick Campbell told OttawaREDBLACKS.com, when asked about needing to be much better on offence. “We’re playing some pretty good football teams the last couple weeks and we’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting.”
“We’re doing a lot of the hard stuff and we need to do some of the fun stuff, which is making some plays and scoring some points,” he continued. “We need to figure that out and find a way to get it done.”
The offence has endured ups and downs this season, but last Sunday may have seen the biggest low. Burris completed just 12 of 23 passes for 113 yards and an interception, while Chevon Walker rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries.
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With a chance to win in the fourth, the offence continued to flounder and eventually the Stampeders broke the game wide open with two quick fourth-quarter touchdowns, followed by a third one late in the game.
“The air kind of got let out of our balloon there at the end, it got away from us,” Campbell said. “I think our defence and special teams were doing a tonne of good things on the field, and I don’t think the score is reflective of the way our defence played.”
“I give Calgary credit, they’re a good football team.”
It’s hard to tell whether boos coming from the home crowd were for Burris or the rest of the offence, but the head coach said it’s not Burris’ fault after the team failed to eclipse 200 yards of offence. Instead, the rest of the offence needs to step up.
“Henry’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and he’s been a great leader for the other guys in the room,” Campbell said. “Football’s a team game, it’s a function of 12 guys working together to get it done and he’s not the issue.”
The REDBLACKS hope to have figured it out by Friday night, as the season could hang in the balance. A stretch of four straight games against Western opponents has ended, and while dates with BC and Saskatchewan arrive after this weekend, Friday’s matchup marks just the third this season against a division opponent.
“We’re gonna continue to work hard because there’s a lot to play for,” Campbell said ahead of Friday’s clash. “We’re in a division where we’ve been given another chance so to speak – an East game coming up this week against Montreal.”
“We need to be excited and find a way to get it done.”
With six of their last 10 games against East Division opponents, the REDBLACKS are well in control of their own destiny. That, however, can start to change on Friday night if they can’t win in Montreal.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen live on TSN.
- With files from MontrealAlouettes.com/OttawaREDBLACKS.com