Zurkowsky: Alouettes earn five wins — the hard way

Argonauts roll up numbers on the Alouettes except where it counts — on the scoreboard.

Montreal Alouettes' Jeremiah Johnson, right, fends Toronto Argonauts Abdul Kanneh in Moncton, N.B. on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS

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MONCTON, N.B. — On another day, against a better team, the Alouettes might not have prevailed. But when all is said and done, they don’t ask how as much as how many?

And following Montreal’s heart-stopping 28-22 victory Sunday afternoon against the Toronto Argonauts, the Als have a 5-4 record halfway through the schedule. They’ve accomplished in nine games what it took 18 to produce a year ago — five wins.

“It was one of those games again. We seem to like these battles going down to the wire. Fortunately, we came out ahead,” head coach Khari Jones said. “They’re a tough team. They’re not a one-and-whatever club in my eyes. They’re playing hard.”

Montreal Alouettes’ Jeremiah Johnson, right, fends Toronto Argonauts Abdul Kanneh in Moncton, N.B. on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS

One week ago, in a double-overtime win at Calgary, it came down to the final play — one on which Eric Rogers, in the back of the end zone, was deemed to be out of bounds despite his catch. He was covered by Greg Reid.

On Sunday, with the ball at the Montreal three and less than a second remaining — time for one play — Reid knocked down a short pass for Armanti Edwards. Toronto began its final possession from its own 10 with 55 seconds remaining.

“We were there last week. We practice it … last-minute drives,” Reid said. “We weren’t concerned. We’ve been in that situation before. We were calm with it. We were ready for it. I’m glad games like that are happening early so we can be prepared for it later, down the road.”

The Argos, who now have lost eight of nine games, had a 16-0 lead in the first half against a reeling club and should have been able to put away the Als. A better team likely would have on this day. Toronto controlled the ball for nearly 20 minutes through the first half, confusing the Als’ defence with screens, draws, a no-huddle offence and a methodical short passing game.

Montreal finally scored a touchdown late in the half, but the Argos came right back down to the Als’ three-yard line and seemed destined to increase their lead when quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson failed to corral a high snap. The ball was recovered by linebacker Chris Ackie, the Als escaping further damage.

“It could have gotten out of hand, but we left a couple plays on the field as well … some dropped picks,” Ackie said. “Sometimes you’re lucky.

“We had to switch it up on them and confuse them … roll different coverages. That’s how we came back in the second half.”

The Als struck early in the second half, Eugene Lewis taking advantage of busted coverage for a 60-yard pass-and-run touchdown. They connected on another big play later in the quarter following a double-reverse. The ball went from Vernon Adams to Jeremiah Johnson. From Johnson to DeVier Posey. Then back to Adams, who passed 34 yards to Quan Bray for the touchdown.

Jones, an assistant coach with Hamilton in 2011, said he used the identical play the last time he was in Moncton, part of this periodic Touchdown Atlantic series. It worked then — at the same end of the field.

“I trust my instincts, the feel of the game. I’m trying hard not to second-guess myself when calling plays,” Jones explained. “I go with what I feel. When you’re an offensive co-ordinator, you don’t want to (upset) the head coach. Now I’ve only got me to (upset). I can handle that and yell at myself if it doesn’t work.”

There really wasn’t anything spectacular — other than those big plays — for the Als. They had a modest 18 first downs and 383 yards’ net offence while controlling the ball for 27:11. Instead, it was the Argos who had the more impressive numbers, except for the one that counts the most, on the scoreboard.

Adams completed 19 of 25 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Nothing wrong with that. But he also was intercepted once on a poor throw, a play that was telegraphed. Still, his play improved and he developed better rhythm in the second half, doing just enough.

“I need to settle down and see things better. It’ll all come together,” Adams said. “We have to be more consistent. I wasn’t seeing everything clearly in the first half. I might have seen everything kind of shaky. But a win is a win. You all can judge it however you want. We got that win, together as a team. That’s all that matters. We’re going to clean it up. We want to and we will.”

As the Als prepare for their third, and final, bye week of the schedule, they appear to be sitting pretty in the East Division, a solid second. While they’re three games behind Hamilton, they also have a four-point cushion on Ottawa, with a game in hand. Their first playoff berth since 2014 is becoming more realistic.

“I like the way we’re playing overall,” Jones said. “We still have things to fix, some holes. But I love the way this team competes. If we keep doing that, the wins are going to come. I try not to think about the record as much … the positioning. Those things will take care of themselves.

“My only goal is to get us playing solid football. For most of the season, we have been.”