MONTREAL -- Drew Willy will get his first career start as he and the Saskatchewan Roughriders roll into Montreal to take on Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes Sunday afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium.
The Als currently sport the league's best home record this season, and after a 43-10 loss to the Lions at BC Place last weekend, it’s nice to be back in familiar territory.
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There’s certainly no panic in the Montreal locker-room following the lopsided loss, and for good reason.
“Trust me, guys on this team are feeling just fine,” vowed S.J. Green, the league’s leader in receiving yards with 871.
Sunday’s game marks the first of two straight at home, as next week the Argos come to town in what could be a late-September battle for a temporary hold of top spot in the East Division.
“The divisional race is going back and forth and we are looking to pull ahead with our next two games being played at home,” added Green, who currently sits first among receivers with 871 yards. “We were undefeated during the entire month of August, and now we’re just going to have to start a brand new winning streak with the eight remaining games on our schedule.”
Sunday’s loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Als that, at its peak, included a 30-25 win at home over the BC Lions that caught everyone attention, in a battle between two division leaders.
Calvillo threw for 321 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in that one, as the Als scored a touchdown in every quarter and made a game-saving defensive stop near the goal line in the final seconds of the game to secure their most impressive win of the season.
“The crowd was the loudest that I’ve heard in a while,” marveled Calvillo, who said being back home this week will go a long way in helping his team get back in the win column. “Now we're going to need that same energy from our fans for an entire four quarters.”
The 40-year-old pivot was held to a season-low 152 passing yards in last week’s loss, as one of the most exciting offences in the league was left without answers against an elite Lions defence that came out looking for revenge.
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Still, with just one loss over the span of more than a month, Calvillo and the Als have already moved past last week’s game and started focusing on the Riders.
“Each week has its own challenges. Right now we’re dealing with adversity based on how we performed last week, and our goal now is to get ready for a brand new team which we haven’t seen all year long,” said Calvillo.
“(The Riders) have gone through some changes defensively with their defensive backs and linebackers, so now it’s just a matter of getting a feel for what they do and what kind of defence they are.”
The Alouettes know scoring points won’t be easy against the Riders on Sunday, as they go up against a defence that’s given up just 41 points over the last three games, including a shutout against the Bombers on Labour Day Weekend.
With 206 points against them this season, just one more point than the Eskimos have given up, the Green and White now sit third in the league in total points allowed, with an average of 20.6 points per game.
A stingy secondary that includes the likes of fifth-year safety James Patrick and emerging star rookie Terrell Maze has led the way for the Riders, while the front-seven also continues to improve as the season progresses.
One player on that unit who hasn’t been active yet, though, is former Alouettes linebacker Diamond Ferri. The 31-year-old spent five seasons with the Alouettes before being released in pre-season this year, but after signing with the Riders earlier, he’ll get to play against his former team this weekend.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a homecoming for me in a way,” the veteran linebacker told Riderville.com. “I’m happy just to be playing the game again in the CFL. I might be up, so I’ll need to be ready for some packages because they’re a good team and we just have to go out there and play hard.”
While the defence continues to deal with some changing parts in Riderville, the offence has done the same thing over the last two weeks, particularly at quarterback.
Darian Durant’s been in and out of action in the last two games with a hip injury, forcing rookie quarterback Drew Willy to play in three of the last four halves of action.
After a week of speculation, Willy will indeed make the start following two weeks where he completed 25 of 33 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
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The Riders wound up getting the best of the Als in what was quite a defensive struggle, with all four quarterbacks in the game combining for just 366 yards en-route to a 27-24 win. The Green and White took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter, and while a late surge from Adrian McPherson tightened the gap, it wasn't enough for the Alouettes to mount the comeback. Riders pivot Darian Durant threw for 177 yards and a touchdown and added 77 yards on the ground, as the Riders split the season series with the Als for just their first win of 2011.
So far, he’s shown his teammates that he’s perfectly capable of leading the offence when called upon.
"During the game last week, I told him, 'Hey, do what you've got to do and we'll do our part,' and it showed at the end,” said veteran centre Dominic Picard, who recalled the way Willy drove the Roughriders 43 yards in three plays to set up Sandro DeAngelis's game-winning, 40-yard field goal as time expired.
“He was really solid and he changed the game with a couple of completions and running the ball. That showed me a lot.”
Willy, a 25-year-old product of Lincoln, Neb., was a four-year starter at the University of Buffalo, where his coach was former Roughriders bench boss Danny Barrett.
He subsequently had NFL stops with the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and San Diego Chargers as well as a stint with the United Football League's Las Vegas Locomotives, before signing with the Roughriders in February.
During his limited playing time with Saskatchewan, Willy has displayed poise that belies his age and experience - a trait he believes is a product of his previous surroundings.
"I'm just comfortable in my skin (and with) who I am," he said. "I'm very competitive, but also try to stay cool and calm back there.”
"Being around guys like Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers - guys that I've been around in the NFL - and then getting to see a guy like (Durant) and (O’Sullivan), I've just had some really good teachers."
Willy said he hasn't had any real "rookie" moments yet, but he has faced adversity such as a hostile crowd in Winnipeg and the loss of Dressler to a head injury in the Banjo Bowl.
To overcome things like that, the CFL freshman has used a simple approach.
“You've just got to take a step back, take a deep breath and do what you've been taught to do.”
With a win, the Riders would match a season-high three-game winning streak, while taking another step towards securing a playoff berth.
Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Postmedia and Riderville.com/MontrealAlouettes.com
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|