Canadian Football League

Monday, November 21, 2005

Als capture Canadian Football League East Title

Eric Lapointe and the Montreal Alouettes spoiled the party Sunday.
Toronto Argonauts Robert Baker is tackled by Montreal Alouettes Richard Karikari in Toronto, Sunday. (CP/Frank Gunn) Lapointe, replacing an injured Robert Edwards, scored three second-half touchdowns as Montreal rallied to stun the Toronto Argonauts and a rabid Rogers Centre crowd of 44,211 with a 33-17 victory in the East Division final.
"It feels good because the last year they kicked our ass on our field (26-18 in the '04 East final at Olympic Stadium)," said Lapointe. "This year we gave them something to think about in the off-season.
"But our job isn't finished just yet."
The gathering was just 460 fans short of a sellout at the reconfigured Rogers Centre. It was the biggest crowd to see a Toronto playoff game since 50,380 fans watched the Argos beat Winnipeg 42-3 in the '91 East Division final at SkyDome.
The fans saw Toronto start impressively, scoring twice in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead. In fact, after scoring on a 43-yard TD catch, Argos receiver R. Jay Sowards celebrated by going into the stands, grabbing a bag of popcorn and eating it on the sidelines with teammate Robert Baker.
But after that, it was all Montreal.
The club's offensive line began dominating the Argos' three-man front and created rushing lanes while the defence tweaked its coverages after the Argos second TD.
That forced Argos quarterback Damon Allen to hold the ball longer and sustain hits (he was sacked three times). Toronto also committed six turnovers (two interceptions, four fumbles), including three by Allen (two picks, fumble).
Montreal committed no turnovers to earn its third Grey Cup berth in four years. The only exception was last season when Toronto beat the Alouettes 26-18 in the East final before downing B.C. 27-19 in the CFL title game.
Montreal will face either the B.C. Lions or Edmonton Eskimos next weekend in Vancouver.
"In a game like that, every mistake is magnified," said Montreal head coach Don Matthews, looking for a record sixth Grey Cup title. "I've been to this dance before and realize it takes 60 minutes to win a football game.
"The thing was A.C. (Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo) played a very controlled game. We knew going in that had to be the case, that we had to be perfect on offence to not put our defence in peril a lot and we did that."
Calvillo was a workmanlike 19 of 33 passing for 190 yards as Montreal rushed for 181 yards. Toronto's defence gave up a league-high 127 yards rushing per game this season.
Matthews didn't see Soward's sideline antics and merely chuckled when told. Defensive tackle Ed Philion didn't see it, either, but said Soward can eat all popcorn he wants now.
"He's probably eating popcorn right now," Philion said. "I'm glad, I hope he puts butter on it."
Toronto head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons shook his head in disbelief regarding his team's many mistakes.
"It is really unthinkable," he said. "If you have one or two, you might have a chance.
"But to have that many, it's too much."
Allen, who finished 18 of 28 passing for 273 yards, agreed.
"They gained rhythm and confidence with every turnover," he said. "Every game in which we lost the turnover battle, we lost."
The loss was a bitter one for Allen, a 42-year-old grandfather who had a career-best 5,082 yards passing this year and is the heavy favourite to win the CFL's outstanding player award. Instead of defending a Grey Cup title, Allen will be joined in Vancouver by teammates Kevin Eiben, Michael Fletcher and Noel Prefontaine - also league award finalists - before pondering his future in the off-season.
"It's up to me and God," he said. "It's my choice and I hope people will allow me to make it.
"When I retire, I'll let you know."
Montreal's plight didn't look good late in the first half when Edwards left with a rib injury. The former first-round pick of the NFL's New England Patriots was the CFL's No. 3 rusher with 1,199 yards and a big part of the Alouette's offence.
But with Montreal's offensive line taking control, the unit didn't skip a beat with Lapointe, who ran for 112 yards on 15 carries, all in the second half.
"The offensive line is why we're going to the Grey Cup," said Lapointe. "There was no pressure on Anthony in the passing game, they opened some big holes for me in the running game.
"I was up to the challenge (when Edwards was hurt), I couldn't wait to be on the field. You never know when you're going to have to step on to the field. I hope Robert plays next week because he carried us all the way."
Matthews said Lapointe could be a starter on any CFL team.
"He has been behind some unbelievable backs and is behind an unbelievable back here in Rob Edwards," Matthews said. "But when given the opportunity to be a player, he always stands out."
Prefontaine had two converts and a field goal for Toronto. Damon Duval booted four field goals and three converts for Montreal.
Notes: - Anwar Stewart was in uniform for Montreal. There was some doubt Saturday regarding Stewart's status due to a family situation in Miami but the veteran defensive end was with the Alouettes . . . Play was delayed briefly in the fourth when a fan ran on to the field, did two summersaults and some bad dance moves before being subdued.


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