MONTREAL – Top spot in the Canadian Football League’s Eastern Division was up for grabs on Thursday night at Percival Molson Stadium as the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes renewed hostilities for the first of four meetings in 2013.
The Argonauts entered Thursday night’s contest coming off back-to-back victories including a convincing 38-12 win over the B.C. Lions at Rogers Centre just over a week ago.
With quarterback Ricky Ray on the shelf due a knee injury suffered against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in week four, second-year pivot Zach Collaros lined up under centre against B.C., completing 21 of 25 pass attempts for 253 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the impressive performance, Collaros returned to his role as the Argonauts’ backup on Thursday night, making way for Ricky Ray, who could not have been re-inserted into the Argonauts’ starting line-up at a more pivotal time.
Joining Collaros in the Argos’ backfield last week was rookie running back Curtis Steele, who registered two touchdowns on 74 yards rushing.
Steele made his second consecutive start on Thursday night as he continues to fill in for 100th Grey Cup MVP (Most Valuable Player) Chad Kackert, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury.
In Montreal, the Dan Hawkins era lasted all of five regular season games as general manager Jim Popp has stepped in to assume the team’s head coaching duties.
For Popp, this marks the third time he has taken over as the Alouettes bench boss. In 2001, Popp coached only one game for Montreal, concluding a disappointing 9-9 campaign. Five years later, Popp also made a late-season change, replacing Don Matthews with four games remaining in the regular season.
Popp remained on the sidelines for the entirety of the 2007 campaign as he led Montreal to an 8-10 mark.
Another headline to come out of Montreal this week in preparation for their divisional battle with the Argonauts was the announcement that the team has lost slotback Jamel Richardson for the remainder of the season after he suffered a torn ACL and LCL during practice. Since 2008, Richardson has registered the most receiving yards in the entire CFL with an astounding 6,603.
On the game’s opening kickoff, Alouettes kick returner Noel Devine coughed up the football, giving the Argonauts favourable field position deep in Montreal territory.
It did not take long for Ricky Ray to capitalize on the turnover as he connected with rookie wide receiver John Chiles for an 11-yard touchdown, putting the Argonauts ahead 7-0 less than two minutes into the football game.
Chiles, meanwhile, joined Curtis Steele as the second Argonaut rookie to make their first career CFL start last week against B.C. In the football game, Chiles registered his first career touchdown reception, making a spectacular catch in between double coverage in the end zone.
Following a pair of offensive two-and-outs, the Argonauts defence made their presence felt as rookie defensive back Alonzo Lawrence recovered Noel Devine’s second fumble of the quarter.
Following a five-yard reception from Andre Durie, Ricky Ray spotted John Chiles wide open in the back corner of end zone for his second touchdown of the game, extending the Argonauts’ lead to 14-0.
The Double Blue continued to pad their first quarter lead as Chad Owens returned Sean Whyte’s 49-yard missed field goal 118 yards for his first kick return touchdown of the 2013 season.
In 2012, Owens failed to register a kick return touchdown for the entire regular season. It wasn’t until the Argonauts’ home playoff game against Edmonton that Owens finally broke out of his kick return slump, recording a sensational 59-yard punt return touchdown.
On the ensuing Alouettes offensive possession, Alonzo Lawrence collected his second fumble recovery of the quarter as Shane Horton jarred the ball loose out of the hands of Montreal wide receiver Tyrell Sutton.
However, the Argonauts failed to capitalize on the turnover as the Double Blue offence was forced to punt.
A frightening moment for Argonaut fans as quarterback Ricky Ray came up limping after taking a late hit from Alouettes linebacker Ejiro Kuale. Ray remained under centre for a couple of plays following the hit prior to exiting the game on the very same series. Fortunately for the Double Blue, Ray returned to the field on the team’s next offensive possession.
The Argonauts defence tallied their fourth takeaway of the first half as cornerback Patrick Watkins collected his first interception of the 2013 season, providing the Double Blue with favourable field position in Alouettes territory.
Ricky Ray engineered a methodical six-play, 53-yard drive capped off by Jason Barnes’ 14-yard touchdown reception, widening the gap to 28-0.
The touchdown was Barnes’ fourth of the 2013 campaign and his second in as many games.
Looking to put a strangle hold on the Alouettes heading into halftime, Chad Owens returned a punt 70 yards for what appeared to be his second return touchdown of the first half. However, the play was called back due to an illegal block on Quinn Porter.
Argonauts kicker Noel Prefontaine stretched the Argonauts’ lead to 31-0 with a 43-yard field goal.
The Alouettes finally got on the board as Sean Whyte connected on a 48-yard field goal, cutting the Argonauts lead to 31-3 at halftime.
With a commanding lead, Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich elected to replace quarterback Ricky Ray late in the first half. Ray concluded the game 15-for-18 with 152 yards passing and three touchdowns.
As Alouettes kicker Sean Whyte prepared to attempt a 45-yard field goal, Argonauts defensive back Jalil Carter was caught offside, resulting in a five-yard penalty. On third-down, running back Jerome Messam pushed forward converting the short yardage play. Looking to cut into the Argonauts’ 28-point lead, the Alouettes once again gambled on third-down, however, this time Patrick Watkins turned away Anthony Calvillo’s intended pass, resulting in a turnover on downs.
On the ensuing offensive drive, Argonauts running back Curtis Steele momentarily exited the football game, taking a short breather on the sidelines. After missing an offensive sequence, Steele returned to the field and played the remainder of the game.
Noel Prefontaine’s 43-yard punt rolled into the end zone, resulting in a rouge, putting the Argonauts ahead 32-3. Playing in his 250th career CFL game, Noel Prefontaine officially surpassed the 1,600-point plateau in his illustrious 16-year CFL career.
Trailing by 29 points entering the fourth quarter, Anthony Calvillo connected with Brandon London for a 48-yard touchdown, cutting the Argonauts’ lead to 32-10.
With the touchdown, Calvillo has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 23 straight games, the third longest streak in CFL history.
With Chad Kackert sidelined due to a knee injury and Ricky Ray exiting the game in an attempt to avoid any further injury to his left knee, Argonauts slotback/kick returner Chad Owens appeared to tweak one of his knees while being tackled in the fourth quarter.
Owens remained down on the turf for several moments prior to slowly making his way to the Argonauts’ sidelines. Fortunately for the Double Blue, Owens returned to the game on the team’s next offensive possession.
The Alouettes continued to chip away at the Argonauts’ lead as Sean Whyte split the uprights from 15 yards out, cutting the deficit to 32-13.
With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Noel Devine coughed up the football for the third time in the game as the Argonauts obtained possession of the ball deep in Alouettes territory.
Noel Prefontaine converted the turnover into points as he connected on a 35-yard field goal, extending the Boatmen’s lead to 35-13.
The Argonauts defence registered their seventh takeaway of the game as Kiante Tripp recovered a fumble, setting up the Double Blue with possession of the ball deep in Alouettes territory.
Noel Prefontaine added another late field goal to secure a 38-13 victory for the Argonauts.
With the win, the Argos now have a four-point cushion for first place in the CFL’s Eastern Division.
The Double Blue will have another long layoff in between games as they begin preparations for a cross-divisional matchup with the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday, August 18.
Making his return to the Argonauts’ starting line-up for the first time since injuring his left knee against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in week four, quarterback Ricky Ray picked up right where he left off as he completed 15 of 18 pass attempts for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
With a commanding lead, Zach Collaros also saw some action as he finished Thursday night’s game 6-for-10 with 44 yards passing and added 31 yards along the ground.
John Chiles and Jason Barnes each hauled in touchdown passes from Ricky Ray while Chad Owens and Andre Durie each tallied four receptions in the victory.
Chiles’ two touchdown receptions give him three over the course of the past two games.
In the Argonauts’ backfield, Curtis Steele registered 42 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Defensively, the Double Blue tallied seven takeaways on Thursday night including three fumble recoveries off the hands of Alouettes kick/punt returner Noel Devine.
As for the Montreal Alouettes, Anthony Calvillo completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 202 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Thursday night marked the fifth consecutive game that Calvillo has thrown for less than 300 yards.
Filling in for starting running back Brandon Whitaker, Canadian tailback Jerome Messam registered 90 yards along the ground on just 14 carries.
The win also marked the third consecutive game that the Argonauts have defeated the Alouettes including this year’s pre-season matchup and last year’s Eastern Final.