Anthony Calvillo and the Montreal Alouettes’ offence weren’t at their best Saturday. Thanks to Chip Cox and the defence, they didn’t have to be to beat the Toronto Argonauts.
Cox returned a fumble 61 yards for the touchdown in the fourth quarter to lead Montreal past Toronto 27-8 to clinch a home playoff date. Cox, who deflected a first-half Argos field goal attempt, returned Kerry Joseph’s fumble untouched at 8:19 before 26,828 spectators with the Rogers Centre roof closed.
Cox’s TD, his second fumble return for a score this season, put Montreal ahead 24-8 and cemented the victory over an Argos squad that was shut out 25-0 the last time these two teams met Aug. 7.
“Our offence is explosive and we’re trying to be just as explosive,” Cox said. “We (Als defensive players) are hard on ourselves and we expect to make plays.”
“You want to be accountable to your teammates.”
Cox said there was plenty of credit to go around for his decisive return.
“If it wasn’t for our defensive line putting pressure on the quarterback it wouldn’t have happened,” a modest Cox said. “I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.”
Montreal (11-2) clinched a home playoff game with the win, its fifth straight against Toronto and ninth in 11 head-to-head meetings. If the Calgary Stampeders beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats later Saturday night, the Alouettes will cement top spot in the East Division, and home field for the conference final, for the second straight year.
And that would create the challenge of Montreal having to stay sharp with nothing on the line over its final five regular-season games.
“We’re trying to get better and not stay the same,” Cox said. “If we stay the same come playoff time, we’ll lose.”
Toronto (3-10) remains firmly entrenched in the East Division basement, four points behind third-place Winnipeg. But both the Bombers and Argos are chasing the B.C. Lions and Edmonton Eskimos (both third in the West at 6-7) for the final Eastern playoff spot.
If the West Division’s fourth-place team has more points at season’s end than the third-place finisher in the East, it will cross over and become the East Division’s No. 3 playoff seed.
But the league-leading Alouettes had all they could handle with the Argos, especially their defence. Calvillo finished 22-of-31 passing but for just 216 yards, was sacked four times (all in the first half) and surrendered his sixth interception of the season as Toronto did a nice job against the CFL’s top-scoring offence (32.2 points per game).
“They threw the whole playbook at us up front,” Calvillo said. “Once we made our adjustments we were OK but we knew it would be tough to score on them because it always is.”
“You’re always going to be excited about a win. What I was most disappointed about was we got stopped too many times in the middle of the field.”
Montreal didn’t emerge unscathed. Tailback Avon Cobourne, who came in as the CFL’s rushing leader with 1,043 yards, ran for just 38 yards on seven carries before suffering a groin injury.
Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman didn’t think Cobourne’s injury was serious and figured there’d be plenty of time to rest Cobourne with the club’s next game being Oct. 12 against Calgary. And should Montreal have clinched first in the East beforehand, Trestman would have the luxury of giving Cobourne more time to heal.
“I’m just proud of our team,” Trestman said. “We played through adversity and injuries and found a way to win.”
“It was a very difficult game in terms of the defence we were playing against . . . and it puts you in a game of chess. I don’t know how to play chess which is probably why we didn’t do so well offensively in the first half.”
For the second straight game, Argos starter Cody Pickett struggled, 7-of-17 passing for 64 yards, and was replaced by Joseph to start the second half. Before the fateful fumble, Joseph took Toronto on a smart nine-play, 65-yard drive that Jamal Robertson capped with a seven-yard TD run at 10:08 of the third, pulling Toronto to within 11-8. But it was punter Justin Medlock’s 19-yard run that was the march’s biggest play, putting the Argos on the Montreal 40-yard line.
Overall, Toronto mustered 218 total yards offensively, including 112 yards passing, and also had three turnovers.
“We have a long way to go offensively,” said Argos head coach Bart Andrus, who is also the club’s offensive co-ordinator. “Right now on offence we’re not stepping up and making plays.”
Once again a questionable Andrus decision came back to bite Toronto.
With Medlock punting at his goal-line, Andrus opted to let Medlock kick rather than take the safety, then kick the ball and hopefully pin Montreal deeper downfield. But the Alouettes needed two plays to march 40 yards for the TD, a 10-yard pass from Calvillo to Jamel Richardson at 9:51 of the first to make it 7-0.
That would be Montreal’s lone offensive TD of the game, a testament to the tenacity of Toronto’s rugged defence.
“We got pressure on their quarterback, made him scramble around,” said linebacker Willie Pile. “Not many teams have done that to them this year.”
“But you get frustrated. Regardless of how we (defence) or special teams play, whole team has to come together to get the win.”
Duval finished with four field goals, two converts and a single.
Medlock had a single and convert for Toronto.