For years, it was regularly billed as a possible Grey Cup Preview. In fact, it’s remarkable the Lions and current incarnation of the Montreal Alouettes only met in the big game twice: 2000 and 2006. In a stretch from 1999 to 2012, they won three Grey Cups each and combined for 16 first place finishes in their respective divisions. Not surprising when you consider the Lions had Wally Buono steering the ship with co-captains such as Dave Dickenson, Geroy Simon, Brent Johnson and Dante Marsh, while the Alouettes were of course led by Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon.
“I just remember it being a battle,” said Manny Arceneaux who had his first taste of these match ups in 2009.
“They had guys like (Mark) Estelle, Davis Sanchez and them, back in the day when Calvillo was throwing. It was always a slugfest when we came out to Montreal. It wasn’t a stadium that you could really walk into and just say you were about to win. The fans would be loud, screaming in French and all that so I really don’t know what they would be saying, but they’d be loud.”
You have to wonder if we’re heading back there with Buono’s current team enjoying a bit of a resurgence and the Alouettes back on track, thanks to the addition of quarterback Darian Durant and re-structure of their front office and coaching staff.
We can talk more about legacies later. For now Arceneaux and company are focused on sweeping both games in this extended Eastern stay. Following the 28-15 victory in Toronto, they enjoyed a productive four days of practice and preparation in Kingston, Ontario. A chance to put themselves in position to sweep this three-game stretch- the team comes home for a week to get ready for a game in Hamilton July 15th– would set them up nicely for the rest of a busy summer schedule.
“You want to get accustomed and make it a habit of winning,” added Arceneaux.
“I think it’s important to try and get these wins now as we come over to the east and get them out of the way and also know when we play these teams again you want to be in position where you’re not waiting on somebody at the end of the year to win to try and get you into the playoffs.”
One thing Arceneaux and the entire offence has been focusing on is the need to start quicker. They haven’t managed a touchdown before the 4th quarter in either of their games this season and although coming back late is always encouraging, they know they need to get back to the identity they had in 2016.
“Like I told my receivers, expect to make a play,” explained Arceneaux.
“That’s from the very first kickoff after they sing the anthem. We need to put together four quarters of football, so I am looking forward to that this Thursday.”
Here are some other key storylines for Thursday’s tilt in Montreal.
Hello Old Friends
Thursday marks the first time Jovan Olafioye and Ryan Phillips will suit up opposite their old ‘mates. Although it may not feel super real for those two until they return to BC Place on September 8th, Solomon Elimimian says it should be fun to battle his close friends, particularly Olafioye who will be blocking him and the defence.
“It’s going to be weird because Jovan is one of my best friends, we’re like brothers,” said Elimimian.
“What he’s done for the organization is outstanding. Jovan never got hurt and he played through a lot of stuff. He was very resilient and won a lot of awards. He will probably go down as one of the greatest offensive lineman in CFL history. It will be different, but I know he’ll be ready for us and we’ll be ready for him.”
Olafioye’s impact will never be forgotten: six CFL all-star selections and seven West Division nods. He was the 2012 CFL Most Outstanding Lineman, and of course, helped this club win a sixth Grey Cup championship one year earlier. The man known as “Big O” has helped the Alouettes not allow a single quarterback sack through two games.
Elimimian won’t have to face Phillips head on, but admits he has some material planned for another one of his old friends.
“We’re going to share some laughs. RP is a funny guy and always has some jokes ready for me so I am sure we’ll share a couple. Pregame we can joke around, but once the whistle blows, it’s all serious. I am sure we’ll probably hook up after the game.”
This week the Alouettes also announced the signing of former Lions defensive back Brandon Stewart.
As usual, Buono was hesitant to comment on any possible roster changes. Charles Vaillancourt took first team reps at left guard, ahead of Kirby Fabien. Changes to the offensive line would not be a big shock after they allowed nine sacks in the first two games. Ty Long and Swayze Waters continued to take equal reps in the kicking game and, like last week, you shouldn’t expect an official decision until close to game time.
“We don’t have to make that until two hours before the game,” said Buono.
“We’re not in a hurry, there’s still plenty of time between now and Thursday night. Guys heal quickly.”
As far as the offensive line goes, we may soon see first hand just how much quality depth Buono has at that position.
“I’ve got like 14 tickets so far and I am still trying to get more. I have a lot of friends coming from my hometown. I went to school in Montreal and I love Montreal, but it’s special to know my friends from back home will be in the stands.”- defensive lineman David Menard on returning to the city he played University football. Menard is one of four BC Lions that played for the Montreal Carabins. Junior Luke, David Foucault and Frederic Chagnon are the others.
Three Keys To Victory
Make Durant uncomfortable: the defensive line has been on their game so far. Even though Buono is on record as saying quarterback sacks aren’t as important as some think, you know the idea will be to get pressure all night. And yes, we will predict Durant gets sacked for the first time this season.
Start Fast(er): You could hear the urgency in Arceneaux’s words. This team will not get away with starting slow every week, especially if the defence doesn’t always back them up like they have. Playing with an early lead will go a long way in this one.
Field Position: You saw how Long was able to pin the Argos deep a couple of times on Friday. He has worked hard on correcting some of those other punting errors. It remains to be seen if he will get the call again this week, but if you can force Durant to work with a long field and not rely on his strong running game, it would be an added bonus.
Analytical stat of the week: the Lions lead the entire CFL in time of possession, 65:14 to be exact. It’s a tribute to how well Jonathon Jennings has been able to escape trouble at certain times. You can argue they should have pulled away from the Argonauts a little earlier, but it’s still a nice feather in their cap early on.
They also have to be proud of the fact they lead the league in rushing yards (227) and rushing touchdowns (3). Jeremiah Johnson is the only player in the league to have more than one touchdown on the ground so far. He has one in each game. The Alouettes are right behind them in rushing yards, with 205 to their credit so far.
More milestones on tap: Arceneaux is 105 receiving yards shy of passing Mervyn Fernandez for third on the club’s all-time list. That would place him behind only Simon and Jim Young. In case you were wondering, Elimimian is indeed in striking distance of yet another milestone: he needs just 11 more defensive tackles to reach 600 for his career. Solly has recently broken club records for both defensive and combined tackles.
The Lions took both meetings last season, winning 38-18 here in Montreal and then prevailing 38-18 at BC place five weeks later. Jeremiah Johnson had a career high 159 yards rushing in the home win. Jennings combined to throw for 672 yards in those wins and completed a remarkable 27 of 32 passes in the road game.
TSN 1040 has all of Thursday’s action, beginning with the pregame show at 2:30PM. Scott Rintoul and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 4:30PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and those south of the border can tune in on ESPNews.
You can download the roster and depth chart HERE!
Matt Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org