Herb Zurkowsky: Alouettes' 'tenacious' defence refuses to lose

TORONTO — There are not enough words, it seems, enough adjectives and superlatives to describe the Alouettes’ defence of late. A defence that continues defying the odds and overcoming obstacles; a defence that refuses to succumb to the seemingly daunting hurdles it faces.

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“Phenomenal … gutsy,” veteran rush-end John Bowman said. “There’s not enough words to describe the love we’ve got for each other defensively. We won’t let each other down. Nobody wants to fail the next man.”

“Tenacious … nasty,” added defensive-tackle Alan-Michael Cash. “Everybody gets to the ball. We’re flying around.

“I feel we’re the best defence in the CFL, because we get after it,” he added. “I feel that way. Yeah, we’re the best.”

In the Als’ last three games, they’ve allowed seven points — one touchdown — against the Ottawa Redblacks. They allowed nine points — one touchdown again — against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. OK. The Redblacks are an expansion team, while the Riders were without Darian Durant, their first-string quarterback.

But there’s no denying what Montreal’s defence accomplished Saturday afternoon against the Toronto Argonauts at the Rogers Centre against Ricky Ray, arguably the best pivot in Canadian professional football.

The Als’ defence held the Argos to four field goals in Montreal’s 20-12 victory, two of which were long — 49 and 48 yards — from Swayze Waters. Ray, the CFL’s leading passer this season, could generate only 202 yards through the air, despite completing 25 of 39 attempts. He was intercepted once, late in the game.

A week ago, against Hamilton, Ray passed for 431 yards and three touchdowns. It marked the second time this season he exceeded the elusive 400-yard plateau. Toronto was held to 17 first downs and 283 yards’ net offence, turning the ball over four times.

And what makes all of this more incomprehensible? Montreal played almost three full quarters without rush-ends Gabriel Knapton and Aaron Lavarias, both suffering knee injuries. Knapton has nine quarterback sacks this season.

If ever there was an excuse to implode or wilt, to simply give up, it was there on Saturday, staring the Als in the face. It was a game they absolutely had to win in the ridiculously tight, topsy-turvy East Division race, but they were presented with a mulligan — one they refused to take.

“We’ve already used all our letdowns. That’s over. That’s a different season,” said defensive-tackle Scott Paxson. “We used all our letdowns and misplays, missed tackles. We used them all. We can’t lose anymore.”

And, it seems, they don’t. The Als haven’t lost since Sept. 12 at Edmonton, which seems like a lifetime ago. Montreal has won four successive games and six of its last seven, improving its record to 7-8. The Als and Hamilton have identical records, but Montreal holds the tiebreaker, if necessary, having defeated the Tiger-Cats once this season. The teams conclude the regular schedule Nov. 8 in Hamilton.

The Argos, who were on their own three-game winning streak, are now third, at 6-9.

Montreal’s defence was this good: After a Jonathan Crompton fumble in the fourth quarter at the Als’ 47, they held Toronto to a field goal. With less than two minutes remaining in regulation time and the Argos driving, they held Ray short on a third-down gamble at the Montreal 35, safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette credited with the tackle. Ray required one yard.


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