Editor’s Note: A similar version of this article originally appeared on May 28, 2020.
There’s always a game that you finish watching and say to yourself, “wow. That was incredible.”
One of those games for me, and for a myriad of CFL fans across the country, was Week 15’s matchup between the Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That game was so great in fact, that CFL.ca ranked it No. 1 on its list of best games of 2019.
This game turns one-year-old today which gives us the perfect opportunity to reminisce.
You didn’t even have to be a Bomber or Alouette fan to enjoy the late-September contest at Percival Molson Stadium. There were big plays left and right. Interceptions. Circus catches (Hi, Jake Wieneke). Receivers throwing passes (yes, we remember your pass to Andrew Harris, Darvin Adams). Everything you could have asked for as a fan, this game had it.
But the most exciting part of the entire game was the comeback that ensued in the fourth quarter.
The Als scored 21 unanswered points in the final frame they charged their way into the history books. The completed comeback became the biggest in franchise history. The previous largest was in 1981 against Toronto.
That comeback wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding performance from Vernon Adams Jr. The Als’ pivot had the biggest passing performance of his CFL career, throwing for 488 yards and four touchdowns while completing 27-of-43 passes while also adding a major score on the ground.
So as we arrive at the one-year anniversary of this game, hear from Eugene Lewis, who spoke with me over the phone on a few months back about that epic contest.
Kristina Costabile: Along with the crazy comeback, this game had everything. From incredible, highlight-reel catches, interceptions, big plays, touchdowns to momentum swings. What do you remember most about it?
Eugene Lewis: The main thing I remember about it was the intensity. It was a really intense game. Coming into that game that was the first game we played Winnipeg for the season so far. We played them again later on. But you could just feel the intensity. We were basically pretty hot at that point in time as a team. Our confidence was up. They were doing well also. It was kinda like we knew what they were bringing to the table and they knew what we were bringing to the table so it was going to be a slugfest, a crazy game. And that’s what it really turned out to be. Like you said, there was a lot of big plays made, a lot of things going on that you had to adjust to and it ended up being, definitely, I think the best game of 2019.
KC: One of the best parts of the game, for me, was when Jake Wieneke scored the game-winner and the crowd erupted. I got goosebumps re-watching it. What was that like for you guys?
EL: That was one game that I can honestly say, I heard the crowd a lot. Usually you’re able to block it out and just focus on the game but that game, that was a game where the crowd played a big part. Just with keeping our confidence and giving us momentum. That catch that Jake had at towards the end, watching on the field, just seeing the ball in the air, it was like slow motion. It was like, ‘wow, he’s wide open.’ You could just see VA (Vernon Adams Jr.) throw the perfect ball and everything happened the right way and the way that we needed it to happen. After he scored the touchdown it was just such a fulfilment of happiness because that was something that the fans haven’t seen at home in a long time. Just a game like that in the CFL in general. Those are the games that people are going to remember forever. That’s a game that I can always go back and tell my kids, tell my family. Fans if I ever see them on the street, they’ll remember that game just because of how intense it was and how the crowd was so involved.
KC: Speaking of remember this game forever, this was the biggest comeback in Alouettes history. You were part of the team that accomplished that and you’ll go down in history. What does that mean to you? When did you find out that it was a historical game?
EL: It was after the game when we went into the locker room. It was Coach Khari, or it might have been somebody else, but they said that they think it might have been the biggest comeback deficit that we ever had. That’s why we play the game. We play the game to make history and break records and things like that because those are the things people remember. Those are the goals that you’re trying to shoot for. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best, you have to play at your best at the end of the day when you’re playing great teams. Just being a part of that, nobody can ever take that away from us. That’s written in history here on out until it’s broken again. But we can always say that we did do that. We can say that throughout the whole season we did a lot of things that we always knew that we were capable of doing and had the potential, we just had to put it all together.
KC: Heading into the fourth quarter, you guys are down by 20. What was it like on the bench as you were getting ready to start the final 15 minutes? Who was the one to lead the charge to make sure everyone was ready and focused?
EL: It was a couple of us. Vernon was one of them. Henoc (Muamba) was another one, myself, there was a couple other guys. The thing is, at that point in the season, we had been through a couple of games like that before already. At that point, we were able to make ourselves comfortable in an uncomfortable situations. It was moreso, don’t get too high, don’t get too low, stay in the middle, no matter if we score, no matter if we turn the ball over. Just stay in the middle and just keep grinding. Everybody, just do what you’re supposed to do and everything will work out. At the same time, we needed some things to go for us, some things to go in our favour and it did. At the end of the day, we took advantage of our opportunities and we made a couple more plays than they did. You’ve got to give them respect, too. I’m sure they weren’t thinking that they were going to lose after being up 20 in the fourth quarter. It’s just about you have to keep playing until the last seconds end. The game is not over until the clock says 0:00. And that’s how we went into every game and we knew we were going to fight to the end regardless if we’re down 25 or if we’re up seven, we’re going to keep playing until the end of the game and it says 0:00. We know what it’s like to win those and we know what it’s like to lose those.
KC: Between a circus catch from Wieneke, a 60-yard big play from Quan Bray and Wieneke catching what ended up being the game-winning touchdown, the final drive of the game was pretty crazy. What was going through your mind as you guys were coming out of the huddle with under a minute left to go, knowing you needed a score?
EL: First things first was, be calm. Don’t panic. You’ve got to keep your demeanour. You’ve got to keep your sense of yourself in a calm position because if you get too excited or you get too low, that’s when it can go bad. For us, we went in that huddle and VA told us, ‘man, let’s go do this. Let’s go make history. Let’s be great.’ And it’s a domino effect. If you have one guy that feels like that, everybody else is going to start feeling like that. Once the things started going well for us on that last drive, that’s when we believed, yeah we really can do this. The only thing that was going to stop us was ourselves and we didn’t stop ourselves that day. Like I said, we made the plays we needed to make. Jake made some hell of a plays, he made some plays that people are going to remember forever. Quan made that huge play, the 60-yard play. We just kept crawling and fighting and grinding all the way to the end. VA, that whole game, he went through a lot. For him to keep his composure for the whole fourth quarter and that last drive, those are the type of guys that you want to go to battle for each and every day.
KC: That game was actually Vernon’s career-best after throwing 488 yards, what can you say about his performance?
EL: That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen him have and I’ve been with VA since my rookie year. He had left and then came back. For him, he had to go through so much more, he had to go through trades and going through this and going through that. There was so much that he was going through. And that game, that was the game where there was the controversy of the helmet thing and him getting suspended next game and all that but he still just went out there and played. Guys like that, it just shows how much they love the game and how much they put into it. Because if you don’t put in that much work, it wouldn’t have went the way it did. For him, to just keep playing after all of the good stuff and all of the bad stuff, he just kept his foot on the gas. He trusted us and we trusted him and that’s what it’s about. It’s about him saying, ‘I need you guys.’ and us saying, ‘we need you too.’ It’s not just one side saying you need me and that’s it. It’s both sides. I’m glad I get to play with VA. That’s my boy. Me and him have a great relationship on and off the field. He actually just had a baby boy the other day! Like I said, me and him, we have a lot in common so it’s easy for us to relate and play with a guy like that.
KC: Club 514 (Editors note: Click here if you don’t know what Club 514 is) kind of became a big thing for you guys last year during walkthroughs at home and I had just wondered if the locker room after this win was as exciting and fun as those were?
EL: After that game, it was wild. We literally got in the locker room and we kinda went wild a little. We just were excited. People were throwing soda and throwing water all around. We celebrated a little bit just because that’s something that we haven’t felt, that type of energy, we haven’t felt like that in a while. At the time, we were going to appreciate that in the moment. We’re going to enjoy that in the moment. Then the next day we come back, back on the grind until the next week. We don’t drag it on too much into the next week. You have to have a mind where you enjoy it now but get ready for the next game after. That night, yeah, we had a good time. We made sure that we enjoyed that moment, enjoyed that game, enjoyed that for the fans, enjoyed that for ourselves. Because we worked really hard for that. We had a lot of fun. Club 514 is one of the best things that we brought to the culture of Montreal, I think. We’ve got to keep that going, keep that culture going. I think it helps us to bring us together more as a team and as an organization. That’s something that we want to teach the young guys so that they can keep it going when we’re done.