By Ireland Compton, The Canadian Press
The Montreal Alouettes’ two-game unbeaten streak came to an abrupt end on Saturday night as they dropped a 17-3 decision to the dominant Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The other major problem for the Als was a two-hour delay as heavy rain and lightning forced the CFL to reschedule the start of the Canada Day contest.
“It was probably one of the more difficult games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Alouettes starting quarterback Cody Fajardo of the delay that kept everyone, players included, questioning if Saturday’s matchup between the Als and Blue Bombers would even take place.
It wasn’t until 8:50 p.m. ET that play commenced without any of the pre-game fanfare planned for the Alouettes’ first Canada Day game at home.
While the Alouettes fought hard, grit wasn’t enough to keep them in the game against arguably their toughest opponent to date.
Winnipeg went up 7-0 in the first quarter and a series of offensive mistakes on the Alouettes’ end, combined with a rock solid Winnipeg defence, meant the Blue Bombers would stay ahead right until the end.
“Were we good enough? No, absolutely not,” said Montreal coach Jason Maas after the game. “I just don’t think we executed at a high enough level throughout the night.”
A major point of struggle for the Alouettes was maintaining possession of the ball. Turnovers got them down and kept them down for the majority of the game.
“Fighting can only get you so far,” said Fajardo. “I had a terrible pick in the red zone, which hurt us there. I know we had a fumble when we were driving, just a bunch of opportunities that we kind of squandered.”
Add to that the uncertainty before the game, last-minute lineup changes, and poor playing conditions and it wasn’t business as usual for the Alouettes.
“There are a lot of outside factors that we just had to shut off throughout the play,” admitted Fajardo. “It wasn’t just ‘go out and play football’ like it normally is.”
Trailing 10-0 to start the second half, the Alouettes were in desperate need of an offensive boost to kick things off. Gaining 20 yards on their first two plays, the Als were creeping into Winnipeg’s defensive zone, only to lose possession on a fumble forced by Winnipeg’s Deatrick Nicholls.
“It was hard to score points tonight,” said Fajardo. “It’s very difficult to move the ball in those elements and it’s very difficult to stay on the field. In those situations I felt like the turnovers caused us to get down on ourselves.”
When the Blue Bombers had the ball, they were a force to be reckoned with. While they matched the Alouettes in effort, they had them totally beat when it came to execution. Winnipeg native Brady Oliveira in particular did a stellar job of keeping his team in enemy territory, totalling 112 rushing yards on the night.
Late in the third quarter, things finally seemed to turn in the Alouettes’ favour with an impressive 65-yard pass from Fajardo to receiver Kaion Julien-Grant giving Alouettes fans hope the team had found its offensive spark, only to be denied entry into the end zone with a killer interception by Winnipeg defensive back Brandon Alexander, which was returned 62 yards, putting them right back where they started.
“I have to give them credit,” Maas said of the Bombers’ defensive abilities. “They’re able to create pressure.”
It’s this constant pressure that kept the Alouettes offence from capitalizing on their possessions. Not only did the Blue Bombers force three fumbles, but they also kept their defensive line tight, providing little space for the Alouettes to create plays. Alouettes’ punter Joseph Zema was forced to punt six times throughout the night, totalling 304 yards.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Alouettes were able to get on the scoreboard as rookie receiver Austin Mack broke into the end zone to capitalize on a 20-yard pass from Fajardo. Upon review the pass was deemed incomplete, but the home team still managed to make something of their possession with a 27-yard field goal from kicker David Coté.
While the Alouettes tried to create some additional offence to close out the game, Winnipeg held them off to secure a 17-3 victory, snapping not one but two Alouettes streaks in the process.
with the Alouettes set to take on the BC Lions in Week 5, coach Jason Maas and quarterback Cody Fajardo both said they’ll be putting this loss behind them and going back to the drawing board so the Alouettes can go into next week’s matchup a little more efficient on offence.
“We’re going to watch the film, we’re going to bury it and we get another opportunity next week,” said Fajardo.
The Blue Bombers (3-1) host the Calgary Stampeders (1-2) on July 7, while the Alouettes (2-1) travel to Vancouver to tackle the B.C. Lions (3-0) on July 9.