July 22, 2019

O’Leary: Execution perfect on Alouettes’ trick play


There’s a phrase for what Khari Jones did on Saturday.

The head coach of the Montreal Alouettes saw his team lined up at the visiting Edmonton Eskimos’ 21-yard line and saw an opportunity.

The only hitch was that it was something he’d never actually seen work.

Eugene Lewis, the Als’ receiver/temporary quarterback, told RDS’ Didier Ormejuste at halftime that the play had only been added into the playbook this week.

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Jones — the first-time head coach that assumed the role six days before the season started and looks like he effortlessly glides through it like Kurt Browning at Stars On Ice — attempted the play in Friday’s practice. It flopped.

“It didn’t work in practice. It looked awful,” Jones said.

“I knew Eugene has a whole lot of pride in his throwing ability. And I knew if we called it in the game, he would make a good decision and a good throw.

“So I was thinking if we had a good drive in the first series that I would pull that out. (Running backs coach) Andre Bolduc designed it and it worked out. It was nice to see that it worked out.”

Jones was being modest. The play looked easy for his Alouettes. Vernon Adams Jr. took the snap and handed it off to William Stanback, who fed the ball to Lewis.

Lewis pulled back for the throw and the crowd saw Adams, who slipped off to his left, fairly wide open. They were on their feet by the time he caught the ball at the 10-yard line and they were roaring when he danced past a couple of Edmonton defenders for the touchdown.

How do you word that phrase delicately, the one that describes what it takes to call a play like that in a scoreless game?

Herb Zurkowsky, the Montreal Gazette’s longtime beat reporter who beat bladder cancer through the off-season, picked the perfect day to come back to his job.

“It took a couple of stones to call that play,” he said to Jones. The coach let out a hearty laugh.

“Yeah, I guess? I just felt I felt good about it so I put it out there,” he said.

“Luckily it worked and we’re talking about in a good way.”

It was one play in a long game, but it speaks volumes about what looks like a resurgent Montreal Alouettes squad.

Think about what this team and this organization have been through. Start with this season. Mike Sherman was fired at the conclusion of training camp, with Jones bumped up from offensive coordinator to head coach. Then this past week, Kavis Reed was relieved of his GM duties. Jones will take on more responsibility this season, helping Joe Mack shape the roster.

That in itself is a lot. Then throw in the on-field woes that stretch back the last four playoff-free years that saw the Als win a combined 21 games. There’s also the for sale tag that’s on the team, though it appears new ownership is on the horizon.

This organization has seen dark times. Big picture, the Als are only 3-2 but it feels like there’s a ray of sun poking out through the dark (and in Saturday’s case hot and swampy) clouds that have hung over them the last four years.

“It didn’t work in practice. It looked awful. I knew Eugene has a whole lot of pride in his throwing ability. And I knew if we called it in the game, he would make a good decision and a good throw.”

Khari Jones on trick play in first quarter


There’s a confidence that emanates from this group, whether they’re pulling off trick plays on their first trip of the game to the red zone, or they’re dragging Trevor Harris’ clean interception sheet through the mud for a day. Saturday’s 20-10 win was Montreal’s first over Edmonton in 11 games, going back to 2013. It was the league’s longest win-streak (losing streak if you’re a Montreal fan). And they did it on the heels of two of their top receivers, B.J. Cunningham and DeVier Posey being placed on the six-game injured list this week. This kind of win has been unheard of in Montreal since Anthony Calvillo retired. More clouds parting.

“We’re trying to get back to that old Montreal, the Anthony Calvillo days. Those winning days. Trying to get back,” said Adams, who made 15 of 22 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He added 44 yards on the ground, dodging Edmonton’s ferocious defensive line most of the day.

Adarius Bowman once stepped in on a razzle dazzle play with the Eskimos. It was Labour Day in Calgary in 2011. The play call came from then-head coach Kavis Reed and Bowman flinched and asked the huddle if they were sure they wanted to do this. The play worked. Bowman took a lateral from Jason Armstead on a punt return and got a 44-yard gain down the field.

Adams didn’t flinch when he got the playcall from Jones.

“You’ve got to trust in Khari,” he said. “Khari, he’s that guy. You saw it when he was playing back in the day and you see it in his playcalls now. He’s not holding back for anybody.”

The final minute or so ticked away on Saturday and the Alouettes players stood on their sideline and looked back at their fans. Some of them stood on their bench and waved their arms, trying to pry more noise out of them with the win secured. It’s been a long, long haul for these fans. They had 16,137 on Saturday. It’s all still a work in progress. But for the first time in a long time it feels like they’re getting somewhere.

“I think we have a pretty special group,” Jones said.

“We just want to make sure we’re doing right by them and make sure that we’re giving them everything they need to be successful. That other stuff, it all comes with that and that’s a nice byproduct of it, that people get to feel that, which is great.

“I love the crowd out there, I love the energy and all that you can feel it. So it’s nice to have that home. And hopefully that continues but the biggest thing is just this team right now and what we have to do next. We’ll watch this film, we’ll make our corrections and then we’ll go try to win the game. That’s all I’m concerned with right now.”