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Zurkowsky: Alouettes prove they re for real with third straight win

Zurkowsky: Alouettes prove they re  for real  with third straight win
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But Saturday afternoon’s at Molson Stadium came against a legitimate opponent with a veteran pivot. And it came with Montreal missing two starting receivers, B.J. Cunningham and DeVier Posey.

The Grey Cup never will be awarded in July and, five games into the Canadian Football League season, plenty of race-track remains. But these Als appear to be legit and, riding a three-game winning streak, sit at 3-2, good for second place in the East Division and a potential playoff berth — something that hasn’t occurred since 2014.

Heading into their second bye week of the schedule, they get a chance to recharge their batteries before hosting the suddenly-reeling Redblacks, Aug. 2.

“I think we have a pretty special group. I want to make sure we’re doing right by them and giving them everything they need to be successful,” Montreal head coach Khari Jones said. “I just think we are for real right now.

“Whether there’s a message or not I want our guys to know that we’re for real and we’re going to come and play every week. I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but we’re going to come and play. We’re building that mentality week by week and the guys are starting to believe it.”

After producing consecutive 36-point performances against the Ticats and Redblacks, there would be no offensive onslaught on this afternoon against an Edmonton defence that had surrendered an average of 222 yards per game. So it was to be expected Montreal’s attack would be limited to fits and starts.

Nonetheless, the Als produced 22 first downs, 335 yards on offence and controlled the ball slightly for more than 32 minutes. And they had some luck on their side. A fourth-quarter pass for Quan Bray in the end zone was tipped and intercepted, only to be nullified by a penalty. And a potential Eskimos’ score in the second quarter came back due to a holding infraction.

Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams passed for a modest 191 yards and one touchdown, to Jake Wieneke. But he also didn’t turn the ball over. As well, the mobile pivot gained 44 yards on seven carries.

If the Als lacked some finish on offence, Adams won the game. And that’s the most important statistic a quarterback can possess.

Adams, a receiver during his high school sophomore season, caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from receiver Eugene Lewis, a quarterback as a senior in high school, slightly more than nine minutes into the game for the opening score. The play began with a handoff to tailback William Stanback, who then pitched to Lewis.

Sure, it was early in the game, but it nonetheless took some stones on Jones’ behalf to make the call and be committed to the play, one that was drawn up this week in practice — and didn’t work particularly well.

“The coaches put the play in practice and we executed it,” Lewis said. “I made the pass. (Adams) made the catch, made them miss and we scored a touchdown.

“That play’s always natural,” Lewis quipped. “I have the best quarterback percentage in the league right now. I’m going to keep it going.”

Jones said on Friday he contemplated running the play during the game. Not only did it not work in practice, he admitted the lack of precision was awful.

“But I knew Eugene has a whole lot of pride in his throwing ability,” Jones said. “I knew if we called it in the game, he would make a good decision and a good throw.”

Another pivotal moment undoubtedly occurred early in the second half, after Sean Whyte’s third field goal pulled the visitors to within a point, 10-9. Adams then directed the Als on an impressive and methodical 10-play, 75-yard drive, culminating in Wieneke’s touchdown. Montreal controlled the ball for more then five minutes on the series, and the visitors never again threatened.

“I think that was big,” Adams admitted. “I was saying at halftime, ‘defence, keep it up.’ We just had to get a drive going. We couldn’t keep going two-and-out like in the first half. The last two weeks we were doing seven-minute drives … eight-minute drives. That helps the defence. It keeps them off their feet and keep them fresh.”

Yes, the Als’ defence.

When these two teams launched the regular-season in June, Edmonton generated 608 yards’ offence. Quarterback Trevor Harris picked apart Montreal, passing for 447 yards. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

While Harris passed for 271 yards back in Montreal, he threw his first two interceptions this season, ending a string of 228 consecutive throws to his receivers. The Eskimos were limited to 17 first downs, 320 yards’ net offence and had the ball less than 28 minutes.

Of more consequence, they failed to find the end zone — a rarity in the Canadian Football League.

Middle-linebacker Henoc Muamba credited first year defensive co-ordinator Bob Slowik. “It’s a guy we believe in, a guy we want to play for,” he said. “He’s motivational, inspirational. He puts us in the best positions to make plays.”
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