We keep wanting to believe things can’t get any worse for the Alouettes. And yet, game after game, this team seems determined to continue defying the odds.
We really wanted to believe things would be different — at least temporarily — following the Wednesday morning massacre that saw the Als fire head coach Jacques Chapdelaine and defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe. It marked the third time in three years the Als have changed coaches during the season. They won their first game for Jim Popp in 2015 and again for Chapdelaine last September.
Instead, with general manager Kavis Reed being named interim head coach and promoting Anthony Calvillo to offensive coordinator for the third time in as many seasons, the Als went out and ran four offensive plays in the opening quarter. They had the ball for 2:30, generated zero first downs and failed to score a point, thus becoming the first Montreal team to go scoreless in five consecutive first quarters.
Want more? Starting quarterback Darian Durant was derricked midway through the second quarter, after failing to complete any of his six attempts, at least half of which skipped off the turf.
At halftime, the Als had two first downs and 27 yards’ net offence. It was embarrassing. There are high school teams — at least some located in Texas or Florida — that likely look more professional and competent.
And then, early in the second half, after Drew Willy was sacked for a four-yard loss and threw an illegal pass, having crossed the line of scrimmage, the Als were faced with second-down and 24. Do the math: At this point the team had generated 23 yards’ offence.
“We can’t hide behind the fact, that was futility,” Reed said. And there will be no argument from this corner.
It wasn’t so much that Montreal lost, 29-11, on a day that was unseasonably warm in front of 22,596 sun-drenched Molson Stadium spectators. It was the fact this organization, yet again, squandered an opportunity to make a statement when the fans had to be feeling good, at least when they arrived.
For the second consecutive year, the Als are operating in a weak East Division, but have been unable to take advantage. They’re competing against a Major League Soccer team that itself appears buried in an abyss and this weekend lost, at home, to an expansion club. And the Canadiens have started training camp. It won’t take long for people to forget about the Canadian Football League team, and with good reason.
“P— poor,” slotback Nik Lewis said. “It was a struggle for the offence to stay on the field and the defence to get off the field. Collectively, as a group, we just didn’t play very well. We have to find it somewhere. It’s got to be found.”
The Als have now lost five straight games, their record dropping to 3-9 — exactly what it was last season following 12 games. Then Chapdelaine replaced Popp and Montreal went 4-2. That record won’t be duplicated, not with four of their final six games on the road, where they’re yet to win this season.
The Redblacks remain first, at 5-7-1, while the Toronto Argonauts are second, at 5-7. The Argos host Montreal Saturday night and, should the Als lose, the only question remaining will be whether they can finish in front of the woebegone Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-9).
“We can’t give up on our season,” Lewis implored. “We still have a couple of weeks to try and solidify. Saturday’s game is huge, once again. Are we going to stand up and man-up and play a great game and try to beat Toronto in their place so we get the tie-breaker?
“It’s going to be an uphill battle. I’m here for the challenge.”
The Als completed the game with only eight first downs and 151 yards’ net offence. They controlled the ball for 19 of 60 minutes. Lewis was their leading receiver, and he caught four for 37 yards. Tyrell Sutton gained 70 yards on seven carries — thanks to a 43-yard trot that set up his third-quarter touchdown — but it’s difficult to run the ball frequently when a team’s always behind.
Defensively, the Als held the defending Grey Cup champions to one offensive touchdown — on a 15-play drive, no less — but never could get off the field. They couldn’t beat Ottawa’s backup quarterback, Drew Tate, who was replacing the injured Trevor Harris. And then they couldn’t beat the Redblacks’ third-stringer, Ryan Lindley, after Tate didn’t return from a second-quarter hit administered by rookie safety Dondre Wright.
The Als even managed to screw up an interception in the end zone on Lindley’s first attempt. Canadian cornerback Tevaughn Campbell pilfered the ball, but crossed the goal line before retreating and getting tackled for a safety.
“It’s the same result, and the results are what counts,” said middle-linebacker Kyries Hebert. “Our goal is to get better and get wins. That’s why the change was made, to give us a chance to have success. And win. And we didn’t do that.”
It has been nearly 50 years since the Als were this bad. They missed the playoffs three successive seasons from 1967-69 under coach O. Kay Dalton, collectively going 7-31-4. And history, it seems, is about to be repeated. But look at the bright side: the Als won the Grey Cup in 1970.