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It had been a long time since Khari Jones had been in Moncton and a lot has changed since then, but the memories were still there.
“I knew it this week,” Jones began.
He was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ offensive coordinator in 2011 and his team was up against the Calgary Stampeders. They won in a blowout, 55-36 on Sept. 25.
“We did a double-reverse. Kevin Glenn threw it to Marcus Thigpen and we got to the one-yard line,” Jones said of that day.
As he was prepping for his return trip to Moncton this week, Jones thought about that play. Eight years later, he’s now in his first head coaching job, steering the Montreal Alouettes through their best season in at least five years.
After falling behind 16-0, the Als began to chip into the lead. Trailing 16-13 with just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Jones made a gutsy call from the sideline and decided that was the time to revisit the play he liked so much.
“It was the same end zone (as today) and we eventually scored in that (2011) game,” he said.
“Andre (Bolduc, the running backs coach) drew it up for me — he drew up the last (trick play) too and it was the right time to do it, I felt. We made the call and luckily it worked out again. It was pretty neat to do it in Moncton eight years later.”
Coaches always say that there are a handful of plays that win or lose you a game. The double-reverse — Vernon Adams Jr. handed off to Jeremiah Johnson, who lateralled to DeVier Posey, who flicked the ball back to Adams, who then fired it 34 yards to the back of the end zone to Quan Bray for the go-ahead touchdown — was certainly one of them.
There are plenty of reasons to like Moncton, but Jones is building a unique history with this maritime city. He comes here, he gets fearlessly creative with his offence and he wins. His Als managed to stop the Argos at the one-yard line on Sunday to hold on for a 28-22 win. They’ll go into September at 5-4, sitting above .500 at the midpoint of the season for the first time since 2012.
John Bowman, the veteran defensive end that was there for the tail end of the Als’ decade of dominance in the early 2000s and through the recent four-year playoff drought, is enjoying watching his team get back to its winning ways.
“Before, we would play and have games like this and we’d end up losing,” he said.
“It’s good to end up two weeks in a row, fighting and coming back and ending up on the winning side of things. We have things to correct but at least we’re happy and smiling and correcting them instead of being sad and miserable.”
The misery that hung over this team — running back William Stanback said that the finger-pointing of last year’s team is now long gone — for the last few years has given way to a group of players that seem to have an endless amount of fight in them, no matter the situation. Last week in Calgary they were down 11 in the final two minutes and came back to win in double overtime. Almost on the other side of the country a week later, they were the ones fighting to protect their lead.
That confidence may stem from their coach. Jones has no qualms about throwing a trick play into the mix of a high stakes game. If he feels like it could work, he makes the call. He did it last month at home when his team shocked Edmonton, where Adams caught a touchdown pass from Eugene Lewis. Where many coaches might play it safe in those situations, Jones seems completely comfortable with taking a risk.
“I just feel like I trust my instincts out there. I trust the feel of the game,” he said.
“If I feel like it’s something that can work at that time, then I’m trying really hard not to second-guess myself at all when I’m calling plays and I just go with what I feel.
“It’s not going to work all the time. That was one of the things that I wanted to make sure of is when I (became) a head coach, sometimes as a coordinator…you might not want to piss off the head coach or something.
“Now all I have is me to piss off, so I can handle that. I can deal with myself if it doesn’t work.”
It worked and it thrilled the 10,126 fans at the Medavie Blue Cross Stadium. At home in Montreal, Alouettes fans can be thrilled that their team has matched its win total from last year and they still have half of their schedule left. They have a two-game lead on Ottawa and are now light years ahead of 1-8 Toronto. For the first time since 2014, the playoffs are a strong possibility for the Alouettes.
“My goal coming to Montreal was winning the Grey Cup,” said Greg Reid, who had the game-sealing knockdown on Armanti Edwards in the end zone on Sunday afternoon.
“That’s what I’m going to focus on.”