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November 25, 2021

Als’ run game ready to tangle with Ticats’ defence

Photo: The Canadian Press

MONTREAL —  Kicking off the Division Semi-Finals with a pair of teams that rule the line of scrimmage in opposite ways, the Montreal Alouettes’ offence knows they’ll have to bring their A-game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ defence.

All season long, the Ticats and Als have dominated games in their own ways. For the Als, the run game has been at the epicentre of their offence as the league’s leading rusher and CFL All-Star, William Stanback, has shown again why he is one of the most prolific backs in the game. In Hamilton, they have been a force to be reckoned between the numbers as the franchise that has become synonyms with the word ‘defence’ has lived up to their reputation, allowing a league-best 1,115 rushing yards.  

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Knowing how important the run game is to their success, the Als will lean on the abilities of Stanback – who was taken out of their last regular-season game against Ottawa as a precaution – and their newly-inked offensive line.

Eclipsing 1,00 rushing yards for the second time in his CFL career, Stanback has had the benefit of running behind one of the most efficient offensive lines when it comes to rushing. Though they have been bested in pass protection on the rare occasion, surrendering just 35 sacks on the season, they lead the league in other categories with a league-best 2,023 rushing yards, 5.6 yards gained on average and 122 rushing first downs.

The Als’ offensive front has seen recognition for their efforts this season with Kristian Matte, Landon Rice, Sean Jamieson and Philippe Gagnon all signing two-year contracts to stay in the Nest. Matte and Rice earned additional acknowledgement for their play in the trenches with the two earning CFL All-Star nods.

Having that calibre of player in front of him, Stanback is eagerly awaiting Sunday’s Semi-Final.

“I’m excited, man,” said Stanback. “My guys up front, I hang out with them all the time. Having them back another year under our belts is going to continue to build chemistry for the future years. I’m here, I’m ready to ride. We got Hamilton, that’s what we worried about and we got them for next year as well. let’s just continue to ball and get this ball rolling in the playoffs.”

Having split the regular-season series against the Ticats, Matte believes the line is going to bring what they learned from both games into Sunday.

“Obviously, the first game here in Montreal, we didn’t do a very good job,” said Matte. “We made a lot of mistakes whether it be blocking assignments, the way we were hitting holes; it just wasn’t one of our better games. That game in Hamilton, it was kind of give-and-take, we’d get one play, they’d get one play. We tried to do a couple of things different, some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Everyone knows we’re going to come in and try to run the ball and the thing that’s dangerous about us right now is that we also have a very efficient passer back there so we can do a little bit of everything.”

Knowing that they’re going against a run-stuffing defence, Matte identified what challenges they have ahead and what they need to do as a unit to be successful.

“Their box; the D-line and their linebackers are second to none in this league,” said Matte. “I think they’re first against the run in the league so that’s for sure a test for us. Everyone knows we like to run the ball and they know they can stop the run for most of the season here. For us, it’s make sure we limit our mistakes, make sure we run our game plan and make sure we dictate how we want to play the game not them and to be more physical.”

For head coach Khari Jones, he could not be happier with the signing and the play of his O-line throughout the entire season who battled injuries and adversity.

“My reaction was pure happiness,” said Jones. “Those guys have been playing fantastic up front and a big reason for our success, running for as many yards as we have this year and protecting quarterback, they’ve just done a great job. Just a good group of guys too, really just a solid bunch of individuals so I’m really happy for them.”

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