July 21, 2006

Als remain unbeaten – but barely

Calvillo throws six TD passes – but two go to Hamilton

By Herb Zurkowsky,
Montreal Gazette

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

The Alouettes offence struggles in the early portion of a game and is trailing at halftime. But this veteran group digs deep, overcomes adversity, plays a nearly flawless second half and, yet again, pulls one out in the fourth quarter. It’s beginning to sound like a broken record, isn’t it? But somehow, the Als continue to win.

“That’s been the story all year. We can’t make things easy,” strong-side linebacker Timothy Strickland said after this heart-stopping 41-38 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last night before the customary 20,202 Molson Stadium spectators, improving Montreal’s record to 5-0. The Als remain the Canadian Football League’s only undefeated team.

“We’ve got to make it hard,” Strickland added. “It’s going to catch up to us. It almost did tonight.”

Damon Duval’s 13-yard field goal with 10.8 seconds remaining proved to be the winning margin. Duval has now made 14 consecutive field goals. The winning drive started from the Montreal 43 with 1:57 remaining. Nine plays later, Duval made his chip-shot. In between, veteran slotback Ben Cahoon beat defensive-back Tay Cody for a 34-yard reception, moving the ball to the Hamilton 8.

Cahoon proved to be a one-man wrecking crew, catching 11 passes for 151 yards. And it wasn’t even career-best numbers for the veteran. Cahoon caught 12 passes in an August 2003 game at Ottawa and gained 187 yards in July 2004 at Toronto.

“Give A.C. (quarterback Anthony Calvillo) credit. He kept calling the same play nine or 10 times,” Cahoon said. “We played Alouette football in the second half. It was fun. It’s all about opportunities. A few balls came my way.”

It was a night of mixed emotions for Calvillo. He passed for four touchdowns – six if you count the passes the Ticats returned to the end zone.

Calvillo passed three yards to backup fullback Jeff Piercy midway through the second quarter, six yards to Kerry Watkins at 4:28 of the third, 36 yards to Thyron Anderson at 9:55 of the same quarter, following an 82-yard field goal return by Avon Cobourne, and 18 yards to Robert Edwards almost five minutes into the fourth quarter.

The Als punted only once in the second half.

Calvillo, who had 96 yards passing at halftime for the second consecutive game, passed for 223 yards over the final 30 minutes. He ended the night completing 29 of 37 for 319 yards. It was the second time this season Calvillo has passed for more than 300 yards and he now has finally surpassed 1,000 yards this season.

“We made solid adjustments in the second half and went back to basics,” he said.

But Calvillo was more concerned with the two interceptions for touchdowns. Mike Echols returned one 94 yards at 11:40 of the first quarter, while Jason Goss had a 53-yarder on the opening play of the second half, giving Hamilton a 27-17 lead. Calvillo said he has never had two passes returned for scores by the opposition.

“At least the feeling is sweeter with the victory,” Calvillo said. “If we would have lost that game, I would have felt like I’d let the team down. We’ve got to play better for four quarters. It’s a rerun, but I’ll keep saying it until we do it.”

Als rush-end Anwar Stewart also scored, intercepting Jason Maas in the second quarter and returning it 35 yards.

It was the fourth touchdown of Stewart’s career, all on interceptions. Duval opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal.

Maas scored on a two-yard run on the Ticats’ opening series and connected with Brock Ralph for 26 yards in the fourth quarter – the first offensive touchdown allowed by the Als defence in the second half. Maas connected with Craig Yeast for a two-point convert, while Mark Myers kicked three field goals. The Ticats are 1-5, including a 1-1 record under interim coach Ron Lancaster.

The Als lost offensive-tackle Uzooma Okeke with a foot injury, while defensive-back Ricky Bell left with a sprained ankle. Both are doubtful for next Friday’s game at Edmonton. The Grey Cup rematch marks the first time the Als play a team other than Hamilton or Winnipeg. It’s also their first game against a West Division opponent.