Defensive-back Greg Reid, one of the few in the Alouettes’ dressing room who didn’t appear to be overcome by emotion, had a simple question for a visitor:
“Why do you want to talk to me?” he wondered. “I didn’t make no plays.”
That’s just it. There were few individual superstars on the Als’ defence this season, a group that seemed to do just enough, but always by committee. They were a bend-but-don’t-break unit, one that gave up too many yards and, quite often, too many points. But one that seemed to find the resolve and fortitude when it was required.
Until, that is, they were faced with an elimination playoff game, and not nearly enough of them did sufficient groundwork to derail Edmonton quarterback Trevor Harris, who produced a performance for the Canadian Football League ages.
“The worst first half I’ve seen in a long time,” said veteran rush-end John Bowman, his voice cracking and his eyes red.
This magical run of an Als season, one that defied the odds on so many fronts — both the head coach and general manager getting fired, not to mention the lack of ownership — came to an abrupt end Sunday, at Molson Stadium of all places, in front of the largest crowd of the season and, it can be argued, a week earlier than most people who follow this league anticipated following a 37-29 defeat.
Harris completed his first 22 passes — one shy of tying a league record — and led the visitors on first half scoring drives that covered 88, 80 and 83 yards, the Eskimos assuming a 25-19 lead at intermission.
His receivers were alarmingly open, repeatedly finding the seams in the Als’ zone defence, as teams have repeatedly done this season. Montreal’s three-man defensive line put no pressure on Harris and was ineffective. And, when push came to shove, they simply couldn’t keep the visitors out of the end zone or create turnovers.
“Fundamentally, we weren’t sound on our assignments,” defensive-back Ciante Evans said. “Too many guys were wide open, but that’s not because of the zone. That’s because of guys not knowing their assignments … not trusting the defensive co-ordinator’s call. At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays.
“Zone allows you to make plays,” he continued. “In man, you can get guys open and running around. For me, I didn’t make enough plays. I have to look in the mirror.”
Nonetheless Harris, who played only one game since early September due to an injury to his throwing arm, completed all but one of 24 passes, producing 257 yards by intermission. The Als had no answers for the receiving combination of Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins.
The Als had only three offensive series in the opening half and scored on two of them. They produced a third touchdown when Mario Alford, a potential free agent who needs to be re-signed, returned a kickoff 99 yards. That Montreal trailed by only six points at halftime was nothing short of miraculous, quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. doing his best to keep his team in the game.
“That (lack of possessions) is tough for anybody. No excuses,” Adams said. “When we’re on the field, we’ve got to be on point.”
The Als were better defensively over the final 30 minutes. That, or Harris, who still ended with 421 passing yards, completing 36 of 39 attempts, merely took his foot off the gas, as teams are known to do. The point is, over the game’s final 32:35, all Montreal surrendered were five Sean Whyte field goals.
“Trevor Harris played a good game and we didn’t, especially in the first half,” Als head coach Khari Jones said in an obvious understatement. “It was tough going. He didn’t throw any incompletions. That speaks for itself.
“I’ve seen Trevor do this before,” Jones added. “It’s not the first time he’s had a game like this or a half like that. There’s a reason he is who he is. He played outstanding football. Of course, we could have done things better. They were just rolling.”
And yet, the Als almost pulled another rabbit out of the hat. A Harris pass was deflected by Bowman and intercepted by Woody Baron. That eventually led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Adams more than six minutes into the fourth quarter.
Then, scrimmaging from their 20 with 3:31 remaining, Adams got to the Montreal 52 before a pass for Jake Wieneke was intercepted by Josh Johnson. Adams, who made a poor decision, was seen pounding his fist into the ground after.
“That was a bad read by me,” Adams admitted. “I was supposed to read the halfback. I kind of skipped over my read at that moment and didn’t see the halfback sitting over there. It was a bad read and a bad play by me.”
Adams would be intercepted once more in the dying moments, his third of the game — all by Johnson — but this bittersweet loss wasn’t on him.
“This takes nothing away from Vernon,” Jones said. “He’s just beginning his career and journey, and I’m really proud of the job he did. He had to put this team on his back sometimes to win games.”
Jones should be proud of his effort this season as well under extenuating circumstances. The man can coach and inspire players.