OTTAWA — Darian Durant sat in the dressing room for the longest time, his back to the media, alone with his thoughts, before he finally turned around, somewhat mercifully, to face the firing squad.
And this was after Anthony Calvillo, the Alouettes’ quarterbacks coach and the leading passer in pro football history, wrapped his arm around Durant, consoling him and, undoubtedly offering some sage advice.
“He was just telling me don’t be so hard on yourself,” Durant revealed to the Montreal Gazette. “It’s a team game. There were other plays in that game that led to us failing. I feel like I could have done some better things for sure. Costing our team the game? I’ll never say that.”
Durant passed for a season-high 452 yards along with two touchdowns. But the Als turned the ball over five times, including a fumble by Durant and a pair of interceptions — one in the end zone by Antoine Pruneau in the second quarter when the visitors had the ball at the five-yard line.
Six almost-certain points squandered. Do the math. The Als lost for the third time in five games Wednesday night, 24-19 to the Ottawa Redblacks, before a capacity crowd of 24,756 at TD Place. It was the first victory of the season for the defending Grey Cup champions, now 1-3-1. Montreal, meanwhile, could have vaulted ahead of Toronto into first place in the East Division with a victory.
“We can’t keep digging a hole like that for ourselves, expecting our defence to bail us out,” Durant said. “We had some costly turnovers in that first half. Even with that, we had a chance to win the game at the end. We just have to cut out the mistakes.”
It marked the second consecutive game in which the Als’ offence sputtered in the opening half, the second consecutive game in which Durant was guilty of two interceptions. He has now been pilfered six times in the last four games. Those in the scoring zone are particularly deflating.
“The interceptions, they can’t happen, especially the one down in the end zone,” Durant said of his attempt to Tiquan Underwood. “That took points off the board. Even if we don’t score (a touchdown) there we get at least three. That can’t happen.
“I just wanted to give (Underwood) a chance to make a play. The DB made a great play. Sometimes it goes like that with 50/50 balls.”
Late in the opening half, the Als trailed by 14 points and appeared dead. Even midway through the third quarter they were still behind, 24-12. But they never surrendered and might have won the game.
With 5:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, and scrimmaging from their own 19, the Als produced an 11-play, 84-yard drive that consumed more than four minutes. But on a third-down gamble from the Redblacks’ eight, and requiring one yard, backup quarterback Vernon Adams was stopped short by middle-linebacker Taylor Reed.
It certainly appeared Adams progressed the ball with forward momentum. And he was credited with a one-yard gain. But when the play was measured, he fell inches short.
“I felt like I had it,” Adams explained. “I looked over, saw the ref coming down and it looked like I had the first down. It just sucks that it came down to this. It sucks. I really thought I got it. It looked like I got it. They just … I don’t know. They spotted it. We didn’t have any challenges. It sucks that it came down like that.”
While the Als, indeed, were out of challenges, head coach Jacques Chapdelaine said it’s his understanding every turnover is reviewed by the Canadian Football League’s Toronto-based command centre. “I’d hope they would have,” he said, shrugging.
“We made too many mistakes early. It’s unfortunate that we’re talking about this call,” he added. “We showed elements to be successful but couldn’t overcome the early mistakes.”
Predictably, Chapdelaine refused to throw his starting quarterback under the bus, saying every player must overcome errors.
“It’s both exciting and unfortunate,” he said. “This game, we showed great production. We’ve got a quarterback that can win games for us.”
The Als produced 27 first downs and 493 yards’ net offence, barely winning the time of possession for once, controlling the ball 30:06. Tiquan Underwood scored on a 51-yard pass-and-run play. B.J. Cunningham caught five passes for 101 yards while Ernest Jackson, in his return to Ottawa, had eight receptions for 101 yards after a slow start.
The ever-reliable Nik Lewis, meanwhile, caught eight for 64 yards, including a touchdown. His fifth reception was the 1,000th of his career, the fourth player in CFL history to hit that milestone.
“We got no points when we needed to get points,” Lewis said. “But there’s no reason to panic. They made mistakes, too. We were right there.
“I felt like we made enough plays to understand how good we can be,” he added. “Through everything that we did wrong, we still had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. I feel confident in what we can do. We’ve just got to finish.”
Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris picked apart the Als’ zone defence, passing for 376 yards, although Montreal surrendered only two touchdowns. But one time, when they were in man coverage. Greg Ellingson ran past defensive-back Chip Cox for an 80-yard pass-and-run score.