The rematch was close, for a while, but then it wasn’t, at all.
At stake was sole possession of first place in the Canadian Football League. With the roof open at BC Place on a sunny, warm afternoon in Vancouver, the rematch of the B.C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes started as a shootout, quieted to a defensive struggle, was peppered by penalties, and spiced with trickery. It was topsy-turvy, as much a battle between the men on field as a chess match between generals, Montreal coach Marc Trestman and B.C. rookie head coach Mike Benevides.
But it was B.C. that outmatched, and outplayed, Montreal, and pulled away in the third quarter to deliver a decisive 43-10 win.
The victory vaults B.C. to 7-3, a game up on the 6-4 Calgary Stampeders in the West Division, the Stamps squeezing by Edmonton Eskimos 20-18 Friday night. The loss -- Montreal’s first since July 27 -- pushes the Als down to 6-4 and into a tie for the lead in the East, as the Toronto Argonauts improved to 6-4 earlier Saturday with a 45-31 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
It was a hotly anticipated rematch, after Montreal defeated B.C. 30-25 on Aug. 31 in a great game that wasn’t decided until the last second. Saturday afternoon was also tremendous and although Montreal had it tied at 10-10 at the end of the first, the home team left no doubt of the superior squad, at least on this day. The game is the final meeting of the two sides until, possibly, late November, for the Grey Cup centenary in Toronto.
“Just before the game there was a good vibe, everyone was feeling good, everyone was excited to get back on the field,” said Lions running back Andrew Harris in the locker room after the game. “We were pissed off after that game in Montreal. We rebounded well and we’ve just got to carry the momentum.”
The Lions began to pull away in the third quarter. Midway through the quarter, the Als had the Lions pinned on their own nine-yard-line, on second-and-23, but Harris caught a Lulay pass to gain 11 and give the Lions some more room to punt. Then, the turning point: the brickwall pass protection the Als have put in front of Anthony Calvillo for weeks finally cracked a little bit.
On first down, a pack of Lions attacked -- leading the league in sacks -- and defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell booked his first sack of the season. The Als went two-and-out and then Lulay marched his team down the field, nine plays, 81 yards, 4:51 seconds, touchdown.
The last thrust came from Nick Moore. Late in the second quarter, Moore had made a twisting, jumping leap, was cranked by a body-shaking tackle -- leaving him gasping for air -- but held on to the ball. In the third quarter Moore made a 21-yard catch to help carry B.C. down the field, and Moore was the man at the goal line. He caught a short pass from Lulay and was essentially stopped short by the Als D but made a second push, jumping, his arm and the ball extended, in the air and over the line and touchdown -- his first in the CFL.
The game was effectively sealed not long after. After the B.C. D -- the league’s best -- held Montreal to another two-and-out, Lions running back Harris cracked a weaving powerful 23-yard run to end the third. To start the fourth, Lulay lofted a 43-yard bomb to Ernest Jackson’s open arms in the endzone. Game over.
BC Place does not often received Montreal warmly. The Als last visit, at the end of last year’s regular season, was a 43-1 Lions thrashing.
The Als, in fact, have not won in BC Place since 2000 -- a dozen years ago. And on Saturday, the team that had taken the second-fewest penalties this year came unglued. Until Saturday, the Als had been flagged 69 times for 630 yards -- an average of 70 yards a game. On Saturday, the Als had the worst penalties game of any time in the league all year, 20 flags, for 151 yards.