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QB Darian Durant gives Alouettes confidence, but Eskimos a tough test

EDMONTON — If it had to be considered the drive of the game for the Alouettes, one play might have personified the essence of Darian Durant and everything he hopes to provide his new team.

Trailing Saskatchewan by two points last week following a Tyler Crapigna field goal eight minutes into the fourth quarter, Durant led the Als on a nine-play drive from the Montreal 27. On second-and-six, Durant scrambled for five yards, leading with his head when he could have easily taken a safety slide.

The Als successfully gambled on third down, Boris Bede eventually kicking the game-winning field goal at 12:31.

“I don’t know if we win that game last year, especially so early,” veteran slotback Nik Lewis said. “I’ve always seen Darian use his legs late in the fourth quarter to get first downs. He had to use them to get us in position to sneak one.

“We feel confident. If we’re in a game in the fourth quarter, we have the tools.”

There are many reasons why general manager Kavis Reed acquired Durant, the 34-year-old veteran, in a trade last winter from the Roughriders — but mostly to stabilize a position that has been unstable since the end of Anthony Calvillo’s career in 2013.

While the Als’ 17-16 victory over Saskatchewan was hardly a work or art, it at least provides the team with some momentum and sense of belief heading into Friday night’s game (10 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio-690) against the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. The Als have lost their last three games here.

“Those are situations I’ve been in my whole career,” Durant said. “I told the guys in the huddle there’s no need to have any negative thoughts. Hopefully my veteran presence in the huddle relaxed the guys and put them in a mindset where they think they can get it done. I’m hoping my presence helps that.

“I stretched out for that extra yard and showed the guys I’m here to win,” he added. “There’s no time to save your body or hold back. If guys are looking at me to set that example, hopefully that play and drive showed guys I’m here to win and do whatever it takes. I think they appreciate me going all out, sacrificing my body. I think they appreciate my calmness in the huddle that last drive.”

But the Als to a man — both players and management — realize it will take a more solid effort to remain competitive with an Eskimos team that appears stacked on both sides of the ball. Edmonton won its opening game at British Columbia, 30-27. Mike Reilly passed for 315 yards and two touchdowns, while receivers Brandon Zylstra and Duke Williams, along with tailback John White, all produced more than 100 yards.

Seventeen points and two touchdowns doesn’t figure to take the Als very far, especially on the road.

“Our A-game is probably going to be needed for us to have a chance. We know that. Hopefully our guys are mentally prepared,” Reed said. “We know it’s going to take a herculean task to beat this team here. We need to make certain our execution is a lot better than last week.”

Keeping it close and remaining competitive against the Eskimos won’t be enough, Reed advised, stating there’s no such thing as moral victories. But for a team that has missed the Canadian Football League playoffs the last two seasons, winning just 13 games over that span, close might count in its continuing evolution.

Reed keeps a close eye on the team he has assembled, rest assured, measuring the work of head coach Jacques Chapdelaine along with the players. Reed wants to see how both will react when adversity strikes and whether they retain their poise. They passed their first hurdle against Saskatchewan.

Durant has vowed the offence will improve and score more points, claiming it takes time to grow and develop chemistry. That process was disrupted at training camp, when Durant was sidelined close to a week with a knee injury, then played only a quarter of the second exhibition game.

“Are we in so-called mid-season form?” Chapdelaine asked rhetorically. “I don’t think we are. There’s lots of room to grow. I do feel we will be better and we are better than in week one.

“It’s important to come out of here with a win. It will go a long way towards galvanizing some of the elements on our team.”

The Als, however, expect to face many challenges on both sides of the ball. They rarely went vertical against the Riders and might have trouble against Edmonton, generally known for putting pressure on the quarterback with only four men. Defensively, there appears to be many size mismatches in the Als secondary. Montreal’s defensive linemen must apply pressure on Reilly or the backs will be on an island, probably victimized.

“They’re going to be a challenge for us,” admitted defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe. “We have to make sure we cover them and don’t let them catch the ball. That’s it. It’s our job.

“We’re going to have to minimize big gains. They like to throw the deep ball. We have to be sound in coverage.”

Notes — Defensive-end Jesse Joseph, who sustained a knee injury in practice this week, has been put on the six-game injured list. He’s joined there by DBs Greg Henderson and Travis Hawkins. … New QB Drew Willy, signed on Monday, finds himself on the one-game injured list.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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http://montrealgazette.com/sports/football/cfl/montreal-alouettes/qb-darian-durant-gives-alouettes-confidence-but-eskimos-a-tough-test