Als defence in tough against Stamps attack

MONTREAL — Defence has been the strong point on the Montreal Alouettes this season, but that will be put to the test by Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders.

Mitchell has passed for 1,003 yards and six touchdowns as Calgary put up a CFL-leading 34.3 points per game in their first three contests of the season.

The Stampeders (2-0-1) face the Alouettes (1-2) on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium.

“We’re going against some pretty high-powered offences but we’re up to the challenge,” said Montreal linebacker Kyries Hebert. “We want to be a top defence in this league so we need to embrace the challenge that is Calgary.”

In the Alouettes’ favour, they’ve won the last three times they faced Calgary at home, although Mitchell was rested for their late-season 17-8 victory in 2016. The Stampeders are also banged up, especially on defence, where Micah Johnson may be their only healthy regular on the line. Calgary has already used a league-high 55 players in only three outings.

The Alouettes have allowed only 20.7 points per game, second best in the nine-team league to British Columbia’s 20.3, but it hasn’t translated into a winning record because the offence has been slow to come together under veteran quarterback Darian Durant.

Their 17.3 points scored per game is second lowest in the CFL, which puts added pressure on the defence. Last week, they held on for three quarters before B.C. pulled away for a 23-16 win.

“We have to do our part to give our team an opportunity to win regardless of what happens on the offensive side of the ball,” said Hebert. “We expect to get stops because you never see a team win with zero points. That’s our job.”

That the defence has been effective is a surprise because major changes were made when Kavis Reed took over as general manager from Jim Popp. Reed moved out two stalwart linebackers, Winston Venable and Bear Woods.

At the end of training camp, it was expected that Anthony Sarao would be the new middle linebacker, but Dominique Tovell was in that spot for a season-opening 17-16 win over Saskatchewan and looks to have won a permanent job. The six-foot-two rookie, playing between 30-somethings Hebert and Chip Cox, had a team-high 10 tackles against B.C.

Tovell played at Louisiana Lafayette a decade after Hebert was a Ragin’ Cajun.

“He’s my alum, go Cajuns,” said Hebert. “We support each other.

“He’s actually living at my house right now, so I have his back. We’re going to grow as the Cajun Connection.”

Tovell said he feeds off the two veterans. Together the trio has made 51 defensive tackles.

“They keep me positive, showing me the small things when everything’s going fast,” said Tovell.

They will be tested by Calgary, which has burly Jerome Messam carrying the ball and three of the league’s top 15 receivers in Kamar Jorden, Lemar Durant and Marquay McDaniel.

It will be a big game for former Stampeder receiver Nik Lewis, now in his second season in Montreal. Lewis needs only 21 receiving yards to pass Alouettes legend Ben Cahoon (13,301) for sixth place all-time. He needs eight catches to become the fourth with 1,000 in his career.

Lewis is more concerned about getting the offence going. Other than Tyrell Sutton leading the league with 210 rushing yards, Montreal is at or near the bottom in most offensive statistics.

“We have a new system, a new quarterback, so many new moving pieces that it’s going to take time,” said Lewis. “But it’s an 18-game race.

“We’ve got to get in the (playoff) tournament and when we do, that’s when we want to be at our best.”

For Calgary, defensive lineman Mike Klassen should play his first game against his former team.

After the Stampeders, the Alouettes visit Ottawa only five days later, but travel will be tougher for the Redblacks, who play in Edmonton on Friday night. The Stamps won’t play again until July 22 at home against Saskatchewan.

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