Yes, the ageless Anthony Calvillo set yet another record, but that’s only the sub-plot in the pot-boiler that is the Montreal Alouettes’ unbeaten month of August.
The main storyline: as the CFL grinds through the halfway mark of the season this weekend, the Als have established themselves as the uncontested alpha dogs of the East.
The best indication: they faced the class of the CFL - the West-leading B.C. Lions - with two of their best offensive players standing in street clothes on the sideline.
It didn’t matter, they won 30-25 to extend their undefeated streak to four.
“It’s pretty amazing our journey since we lost to Toronto (on July 27th). (Coach) Marc Trestman said we’re growing as a team, and I didn’t want to hear that, we had just lost a game. But then, when I went back and watched the film and started sensing the locker room, he was right” said Calvillo, who set a CFL mark with his eighth consecutive 300-yard passing performance. “And we grew from there, won on the road in Winnipeg, won on the road in Edmonton, now back-to-back games at home. The exciting part is these young guys are starting to realize what kind of reputation we have as the Alouettes. We win here.”
Yes they do, and now they’re 6-3, the same record the Lions now boast.
The Als faced a thorny game-planning problem as they faced the league’s pre-eminent team and defending Grey Cup champions: the absence of top slotback Jamel Richardson, arguably the CFL’s most dominant pass-catcher, and fellow injured receiver Brandon London, he of the 19.1 yard per catch average.
Good coaches figure out ways to compensate for their weaknesses - it also helps that receiver S.J. Green, who merely leads the league in receiving yards, was part of the Als equation.
Conventional wisdom dictated Montreal would have a tough task even under ideal circumstances with B.C.’s league-leading defence, and with their battle-tested secondary in particular.
Instead, it was the Alouettes’ defence that held fast when B.C. had a first and goal from the eight yard line in the final minute - defensive back Billy Parker batted down a pass in the end zone with 4.7 seconds to play to snuff out the drive.
Montreal’s hallmark under head coach Marc Trestman’s tutelage has been lethal offence, and there would be plenty of it this night.
Calvillo opened the game with four straight passes, the last of which was grabbed by running back Brandon Whitaker, who bulldozed B.C.’s Cauchy Muamba at the three yard line and glided into the end zone.
The more important play in the context of Montreal’s game-plan came on the throw immediately before, when Green looped from the outside of the formation to the inside to snare a short pass and, sprung by rookie fullback Patrick Lavoie’s block, loped for 50 yards.
It was that play and others like it - to Whitaker, notably, who added a second first-half touchdown on a similar route to make it a 17-11 game.
The Lions, winners of four straight coming in, are no dupes, and in the second half they duly adjusted to Montreal’s short-passing game.
So Trestman threw another wrinkle at his counterpart Mike Benevides.
With time winding down in the third quarter and the score tied at 17, Calvillo hit little-used receiver Eric Deslauriers on a deep crossing route that went for 39 yards - two plays later running back Victor Anderson burst through a tackle into the end zone.
From there, vertical became the byword for the Montreal offence (“they were playing our underneath stuff tight . . . we have plays designed just for that,” Calvillo said).
“When all is said and done, coaching really plays a major role in winning and losing games,” Calvillo said. “We went out there with no five receiver set . . . they were able to design stuff to get guys open.”
In the fourth quarter, the 40-year-old Montreal pivot scrambled away from pressure and fired a 42-yard pass to Brian Bratton, followed by a 25-yarder to Deslauriers to set up Whitaker’s third touchdown on a three-yard run.
That drive allowed Calvillo to top the 300 yard barrier for an unprecedented eighth straight time - eclipsing Doug Flutie’s seven straight 300-yard games in 1991.
“It’s one of those things that when you’re done, you sit back and think ‘nobody else did that’,” Calvillo said.
Montreal’s defence, which has grown into coordinator Jeff Reinebold’s new scheme over the past month or so, was able to match B.C.’s ferocious intensity hit for hit and blitzed effectively out-sacking their opponents.
“We don’t really care if people are talking about us or not as long as we’re winning football games,” said middle linebacker Shea Emry.
The Alouettes limited B.C.’s big-play opportunities, the swarming 3-4 style that Reinebold implemented earlier this season - with mixed results in the early going - has well and truly taken root.
“At the beginning of the season we had some guys out with injuries . . . there was a lot of people moving around, now we have half a season out of the way and the guys are finally coming together,” Emry said. “I’m still learning where these guys are from, what’s going on with their families and stuff, and it’s cool. When you learn more about the guys you’re playing with you want it more for them than for yourself.”
Lions pivot Travis Lulay kept the B.C. offence ticking over well enough to keep it close and have a chance to scrape out a result.
He launched a touchdown pass to Arland Bruce in the first half that gave him 20 consecutive starts with at least one touchdown pass. That’s the fourth-longest streak in CFL history.
But the visitors’ most dangerous player may not have been Lulay, the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, but kick returner Tim Brown, who rolled up 272 return yards.
Special teams remain a sore point for the Als, and they spotted B.C. field position time and again in this game, which haunted them in the fourth quarter.
After a Khreem Smith sack pinned Montreal deep, Lulay marched his team down a short field and hit Bruce for a second time to earn a 25-24 lead - that score was set up by Paris Jackson’s improbable catch, where he had a pass batted out of his hands by a defender, only for the ball to land in his arms as he slid to the ground.
Those are the sorts of bounces that go your way when you’re good.
If B.C. remains the odds-on favourite to finish atop the CFL, the outfit from Montreal will argue it has served notice it can present a worthy opposition.
Asked where his team finds itself after this game, Emry smiled and offered a one-word response.