Alouettes hang on for close win over Eskimos
MONTREAL — Matt Nichols came oh-so close to living a back-up quarterback’s dream.
The Edmonton second stringer went in for starter Kerry Joseph with his team trailing 20-4 to start the fourth quarter and came within a missed two-point convert of forcing overtime as the Montreal Alouettes prevailed 27-25 over the Eskimos on Sunday afternoon.
A win would have clinched a CFL playoff berth for Edmonton (7-10), which now must hope for either Hamilton (6-11) to lose Thursday against Toronto or the Eskimos to win on home turf over the rival Calgary Stampeders in their regular season finale on Friday night.
“It was one of those things that I came into the game when they had a big lead and they were running different defences than they were earlier, giving us a few holes, and I was just able to get a few of those balls down the middle,” said Nichols.
“This team competed hard, we just turned it on a bit late. Now we’ve got one left that we have to win.”
Nichols threw a pair of touchdown passes to Fred Stamps, including one with no time left on the clock, and another to Shamawd Chambers in 15 minutes of work that turned a comfortable Montreal lead into a cliff hanger.
But confusion on the final two-point convert attempt saw Nichols loft a ball to the back of the end zone where no receiver was close to making a catch.
“Matt did a phenomenal job,” said coach Kavis Reed. “We knew that if we had some difficulty handling the pressure, a change of pace at quarterback would be the thing we wanted to do.
“We had a plan of what we needed to score and executed it pretty highly. It’s unfortunate what happened at the end.”
Anthony Calvillo threw touchdown passes to Bo Bowling and Ryan Bomben and back-up quarterback Adrian McPherson ran one in for Montreal (11-6), which has secured first place in the East Division. They close with a meaningless game Saturday in Winnipeg.
The win was Marc Trestman’s 59th in only five seasons, giving him a share of the team record for coaching victories with 1950s bench boss Peahead Walker.
But personal milestones were not on his mind after the game.
“We’ll look at the tape, but what I told our guys is that we got our backbone built again by trying to win on the last play of a game,” he said. “I hate the word because it’s such a cliche but it’s a wake up call.
“It shows we can always improve. But there’s always the confidence you get from having the defence make a play at the end. I prefer to look at the positive, and then go back and make the corrections on the other things.”
The Alouettes owned the first half, building a 19-1 lead. They dominated in every area on offence and stuffed the run, where Jerome Messam struggled in relief of injured Hugh Charles. He ended with 21 yards on five carries.
It all changed when Joseph suffered a cut finger and Nichols went into the game.
He immediately found Stamps behind the defence for a 95-yard touchdown to raise hopes for an Edmonton comeback.
“We called receiver screen to the right, they covered it well, so I looked around,” Nichols said of the play. “Fred had a go-route on the back side and I saw him right before I got hit.
“It was basically a broken play that turned into a good one for us. Fred’s a guy that can do stuff like that.”
But on the next possession, Nichols was picked off by Dwight Anderson. Five plays later, Calvillo hit Bomben, a guard who sometimes goes in at receiver, with a five-yard TD toss that proved to be the difference in the game.
A long Weldon Brown kickoff return was converted into Nichol’s five-yard TD toss to Chambers with 2:07 left to play.
And Nichols led a last-minute drive to the Montreal 13 and hit Stamps in the end zone with no time remaining, only to have the two-point convert fail.
Now the Eskimos’ playoff future is in jeopardy, but they still have a shot at catching Saskatchewan (8-9) for third place in the West. They hold the tiebreaker over the Roughriders.