Khari Jones will put one of his top playmakers on the field Sunday for the East Division final.
The Montreal head coach was emphatic Saturday receiver Eugene Lewis will play when the Alouettes face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field. Lewis didn’t practise Thursday due to a hip injury and was limited Friday.
Lewis was Montreal’s top receiver this season with 62 catches for 964 yards and nine touchdowns.
“He’s playing,” Jones said. “I don’t know if anyone is 100 per cent right now but the plan is for him to play.
“I’ve been assured he’ll be ready to go.”
That was hardly news to Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer, who said earlier his team prepared all week expecting Lewis to play.
“We’re preparing for what we’ve seen on tape and that’s their best players, their best foot forward,” Steinauer said. “Obviously, we respect our opponents, we put together game plans to beat each opponent.
“But the majority of our focus continues to be on ourselves. Whoever shows up, we’re going to play against.”
Montreal’s offence led the CFL in net yards (371.8 per game) and time of possession (33 minutes, 19 seconds) and was second in offensive points (22.7) and offensive TDs (31). It also averaged a league-best 144.5 rushing yards, anchored by William Stanback, the East Division’s outstanding player who ran for a league-leading 1,176 yards.
“I think it will be pretty important for us to establish our run game,” Jones said. It’s a big part of what we do but we also feel good about how we’ve been throwing the ball as well.
“Whatever we need to do, we feel like we’ll be ready to do it.”
Hamilton’s defence allowed a league-low 79.6 rushing yards per game and just 16.1 offensive points (second behind Winnipeg at 12.9). The Ticats were also tied with the Bombers in turnovers forced (20) while registering a CFL-best nine interceptions.
Hamilton and Montreal split the season series 1-1. The Ticats won 27-10 at Molson Stadium on Aug. 27 before the Alouettes erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit en route to a 23-20 overtime decision Oct. 2.
That win halted Hamilton’s 11-game home win streak. The Ticats finished 5-2 at Tim Hortons Field and 4-4 within the East Division.
Stanback ran for 99 yards on 24 carries (4.1-yard average) in the two regular-season matchups.
“He’s a great back, he’s a key to the offence,” Hamilton defensive tackle Ted Laurent said of Stanback. “However he goes, that’s how they go.
“We’ve been prepping that all week ... we’ve just got to control the run game and try to make him one-dimensional.”
Hamilton faces Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris for the first time this season. Veteran Vernon Adams Jr. started both regular-season games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that resulted in the Alouettes acquiring Harris from Edmonton.
“He’s a champion, he understands where to go with the football,” Steinauer said of Harris. “The difference would be, obviously, in athletic ability.
“I don’t see the offence changing a ton, Khari kind of does what he does. I’ll tell you this, one thing I’ve learned about playoff football, it’s the game within the game. You can have your plan and if you want to stick to it, it better be damn good but you better be able to adjust.”
Montreal was 4-3 on the road this year and 5-3 within the East Division. Its defence led the CFL in sacks (49).
Hamilton also has some health issues as defensive back Ciante Evans (thigh) will be a game-time decision. Canadian centre Darius Ciraco (back) will start Sunday but receiver Bralon Addison won’t play.
Addison came off the six-game injured list earlier this week and resumed practising. He has 18 catches for 231 yards in three contests this year after registering 95 receptions for 1,236 yards and seven TDs in 2019.
Don Jackson will start at running back, only his fifth appearance this season. While Jackson was hurt part of the year, he also spent about five weeks as a healthy scratch.
“What I’ve been through is just simply what people go through in life,” Jackson said. “Ups and down, valleys and peaks.
“Sometimes, things aren’t going to go in your favour, sometimes things will. Everybody has their times of ups and downs. I’m trying to find the best way not react to it but respond to it.”
Jackson has run for 245 yards on 44 carries (5.6-yard average) with a touchdown. He’s also recorded eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
The five-foot-10, 205-pound Jackson rushed for 924 yards (5.8-yard average) with three TDs in 13 games with Calgary in 2018. But the following year, he ran for 246 yards on 58 carries (4.2-yard average) and two TDs over seven games with the Stampeders.
“He’s just dynamic,” Steinauer said. “There could be something there and he’ll find a way to get seven, there could be plays where there’s seven but he finds a way to get 25.
“And what I love about Don is I haven’t had to motivate him one time. When you have a team of self-starters who are competitive at the core, I think it’s special and it’s rare.”
Jackson only ran for 34 yards on 12 carries in last week’s 24-3 home win over Saskatchewan. But Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli said those numbers don’t tell the whole story about Jackson’s contribution.
“We had a couple of second-and-three, second-and-four where got hit at the line of scrimmage and was able to keep his feet going and fall forward for the first down,” Masoli said. “Stuff like that is priceless to be able to keep the drives going and move the chains.
“On top of that, he’s an explosive guy. At any point there could be an explosive play.”