Brandon Whitaker made his name rushing the football but the stocky tailback showed he can catch it just as well.
Whitaker scored a career-high three touchdowns, two of them on passes from a rejuvenated Anthony Calvillo, as the Montreal Alouettes downed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 41-30 in the CFL on Friday night.
Whitaker led Montreal’s receivers with 11 catches for 137 yards and also rushed for 98 as the Alouettes (1-1) bounced back from a season-opening 38-10 loss in Calgary last week with a dominant attack, with 551 yards of net offence.
“The coaches saw something out there and they took advantage of it,” said Whitaker, who led the CFL in rushing last season.
It was also redemption time for Calvillo, who completed 31 of 39 passes for 443 yards. He had three TD tosses and did not have any picked off after throwing two interceptions the week before.
Rookie Patrick Lavoie also had a TD catch and backup quarterback Adrian McPherson threw a scoring pass to defensive lineman J.P Bekasiak on a short yardage play for Montreal (1-1). Sean White had two field goals.
Winnipeg (0-2) QB Buck Pierce, forced out of the season opening 33-16 loss in Vancouver by an injury after completing just three passes, was back to his scrambling self and threw a TD pass to Chris Matthews.
Backup quarterback Alex Brink scored a late TD, Demond Washington scored on a spectacular punt return and Justin Palardy added three field goals.
Pierce came away feeling the Bombers could have had more.
They gave up the ball on downs after having first down on the Montreal six in the fourth quarter, and twice settled for short field goals when they needed TDs.
“I’m frustrated at myself and the loss,” said Pierce. “It seemed like we executed well up to the 20-yard line, and then we couldn’t put the ball in the end zone.
“We made some improvements and we looked like a pretty efficient offence at times, but we left some things out there and I’m pretty disappointed about that.”
It was Pierce’s first loss in four meetings with the Alouettes over the last two seasons.
The Bombers and Alouettes both finished 10-8 in the East Division last season, but Winnipeg took first lace by winning the season series between them. They used that to reach the Grey Cup game for the first time since 2007, losing to B.C.
“We’ve got to learn how to win,” added Pierce. “Last year, we won these games on the road.
“We have to get to the point we were, to understand these games are within our reach. It’s us stopping ourselves, that’s the frustrating part. They didn’t do anything we didn’t know they’d do.”
Pierce was held to three completions for 11 yards in Vancouver, but bounced back with 18 completions for 255 yards. Matthews (137) and Terrence Edwards (126) both cracked the 100-yard barrier.
But Montreal used two TDs in the first quarter and another pair in the fourth to get the victory before a less than sellout crowd of 21,016 on a steamy night at Percival Molson Stadium.
McPherson was in at quarterback on a third and goal from the two-yard line when he hit Bekasiak in the end zone 10:04 into the game to cap a 15-play, 97-yard drive.
“I’ve been running that play in practice for two years now so it’s been a long time coming,” said Bekasiak. “For a split second I thought it was going to get intercepted.
“I’m glad I could help out. It didn’t look like we were getting too far in that series offensively down at their goal line. They were doing a good job blocking us. That was a great call because they weren’t paying attention to me.”
A 49-yard strike to S.J. Green set up Whitaker’s TD at the 15:00 mark, as Calvillo hit his running back coming out of the backfield for a 21-yard score.
Pierce marched the Bombers to a field goal to open the second quarter, but White got it back for Montreal after Rod Davis picked off a Pierce pass.
Winnipeg struck back again as Edwards made a 46-yard catch to set up a Pierce’s seven-yard TD pass to Matthews at 11:51. Another drive produced Palardy’s second field goal with one minute left to end the half with a 17-13 Montreal lead.
Montreal started the second half with an eight-play drive for a TD as the rookie Lavoie, Montreal’s top draft pick out of Laval, took a short toss from Calvillo and ran it in from the 20 at 3:58.
The Alouettes were caught once for roughing and twice for pass interference to take the ball to the five, but the Bombers were unable to punch it in and settled for a field goal.
It didn’t matter, because the defence stopped Montreal and forced a punt, which Washington took straight up the middle 82 yards for a TD. The Alouettes answered with a field goal as the third quarter ended to restore their four-point lead.
Calvillo capped a quick drive with a 14-yard TD pass to Whitaker 6:04 into the fourth quarter. Pierce brought the Bombers back to the Montreal six, but failed to score and turned the ball over on downs.
Whitaker ran one in around the left end from the 11 with 1:38 left to play.
Montreal’s fifth pass interference foul of the game gave Winnipeg the ball at the one in the final minute, where Brink ran it in.