The Montreal Alouettes want to turn Percival Molson Stadium into a fortress, starting on Thanksgiving Monday.
The Alouettes (3-4) will play five of their next seven games in Montreal. But as the CFL flips to the second half of the season, the team has yet to give their home fans a win.
As they play host to the Ottawa Redblacks (2-6) for a Thanksgiving Monday matchup, the Als want to finally break the ice and build on the momentum from last week’s 23-20 overtime win in Hamilton.
“We kind of dug ourselves in a little bit of a hole in this first half of the season,” said head coach Khari Jones. “Luckily we’re not too far away from anyone but we just need to take care of business and with five of our next seven games at home we want to establish a home field. We haven’t been able to do that yet.”
Montreal lost 27-10 to the Tiger-Cats in Week 4 and couldn’t record a touchdown in a 27-18 Week 8 loss to the BC Lions.
“We only had two [home] games and I was only part of one of those games because of COVID,” Jones said. “And so we’re coming in as a team that needs to win.”
The Alouettes will be looking for their first home victory with a banged-up squad.
The CFL’s leading rusher William Stanback will miss the game owing to a rib injury. In his place, running back Cameron Artis-Payne will earn his first start for Montreal.
The former NFLer collected 481 yards from 118 carries with the Carolina Panthers between 2015 and 2018. Before signing with the Alouettes in February, Artis-Payne played for the Dallas Renegades in the COVID-shortened 2020 XFL season, scoring two touchdowns from 41 carries and 241 yards.
“We have a lot of confidence in Cameron,” Jones said. “He’s done it at the professional level already and he’s fit in really nicely with the team. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform, he’s a pretty neat back.”
Stanback has racked up 677 yards and an average of 6.2 yards per carry in seven games this season. For Jones, not having his usual running back won’t change the way his team plays.
“As great as Stanback is, and I agree that he’s probably playing at the best level in the CFL, but we’re not going to change much,” Jones said. “I’m still going to run the football.
“I still feel good about [Artis-Payne] and everything that he brings to the table and [quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.] does as well. Not only with running, with protections but with everything we ask our running backs to do. This is a guy who knows his job and I feel really confident.”
Another crucial change to Montreal’s lineup will be an almost entirely remodelled offensive line. The Alouettes will make four changes from last week’s game in Hamilton. The only unchanged position is Landon Rice at right tackle.
Kristian Matte will move from right guard to left guard, filling in for the injured Philippe Gagnon. Replacing Matte will be local player David Foucault, making his first-ever start for the Alouettes. David Brown will slot in at centre for the injured Sean Jamieson. Finally, Chris Schleuger will start at left tackle for Tony Washington. Washington will remain dressed as a backup.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Schleuger. He’s played against [Ottawa] before and played well,” Jones said. “We have a few other injuries that we’re dealing with on the offensive line but I like our depth there. David Brown played well for us last week, David Foucault as well and those guys will step in and do a good job.”
As the Redblacks head into Montreal for the first game of a home-and-home series, Jones admitted that his team needs to go out and beat Ottawa, but refused to call it a must-win game.
“It’s a must-win when you have to win or you go home and that’s not the case yet. But we still want to win this game in the worst way,” Jones said. “We don’t put anything extra on ourselves. If we just go out and play the way we know how to play, then we should be okay.”