Alouettes bounce back behind impressive first half with 31-10 victory over Lions

MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes can thank their defence for heading into a bye week with the high of a win.

Impressive play on that side of the ball lifted the Alouettes to a 31-10 win over the B.C. Lions on Friday night. The Alouettes (5-7) not only shook off a tough loss to the Ottawa Redblacks from last week, but also snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Lions (8-3).

“Defensively, we showed up,” said Alouettes general manager and interim coach Danny Maciocia. “We showed up mentally but also physically. We imposed ourselves physically at the line of scrimmage.

“(B.C. is) probably the only team with three Americans on the offensive line and we were able to get to the quarterback. It’s a big pride for our players and our staff who worked hard to build a game plan and they’ve executed it almost perfectly.”

In his first start as an Alouette, defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson got the better of Lions quarterback Antonio Pipkin with a safety that started a run of 21 unanswered points in the first half. Johnson had two sacks including one that forced a turnover on downs in the third quarter.

“I’m just excited, you can’t ask for a better opportunity coming out on my first start and finishing the game with two sacks,” Johnson said. “I’m feeling excited, I’m loving the support I’m getting from all my teammates.”

Maciocia said “it took a bit of time to convince” Johnson to join the Alouettes after he had participated in a rookie mini-camp with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. The Als staff was thrilled to bring him on in early August and the 23-year-old started making a difference.

“He’s not someone that’s smiling or is celebrating with his teammates, he’s a football player I like to call, ‘all-business,’” Maciocia added. “For a coach, that’s the type of player we love.”

In his Alouettes debut, cornerback Nafees Lyon had one interception which he returned for a touchdown and stopped any chance at a Lions comeback.

“It was really big, especially for his first time in the system,” said defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy. “That’s pretty awesome for him.”

Quarterback Trevor Harris threw for 163 yards on 16-of-23 passing to go along with one touchdown and one interception. QB Dominique Davis had one rushing touchdown.

With wins against the Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Alouettes have proven capable of taking on the CFL’s very best. Maciocia jokingly said that Montreal should play them more often but took from the past few weeks that his team should play on par with the best in the league.

“Sometimes, we ourselves prevent the type of performance that we got tonight,” Maciocia added. “If we can avoid self-destructing at critical times we can run with anybody. It doesn’t matter who it is.”

Making his return to Montreal, Pipkin threw for 174 yards on 13-of-24 passing with one interception.

Vernon Adams Jr. also made his Montreal homecoming after the Alouettes traded the quarterback to B.C. on Aug. 31. Adams served as the backup, playing parts of the first and second quarter and picking up a mere 17 passing yards.

“I thought our football team wasn’t good enough as a whole in the first half,” said Lions head coach Rick Campbell. “So that complicates the quarterback situation. When we come out in the third quarter and we play with energy and edge, and everybody is playing together then you can see there are glimpses that we do good things. But less than that ain’t going to get it done.”

The Lions broke the ice with a 36-yard field goal from former Alouette Sean Whyte for the Lions’ only points of the first half.

The Alouettes put their first two points on the board when Johnson took Pipkin down in B.C.’s end zone for a safety.

A few minutes later, Davis found the end zone on a two-yard QB sneak for his tenth rushing TD of the season, after a Zach Lindley blocked punt put Montreal on the Lions’ 25-yard line.

The Alouettes then created a double-digit gap by scoring 13 points in the second quarter.

David Cote hit a 13-yard field goal to give Montreal an 11-3 lead. A few minutes later, the Alouettes increased their lead to 15 points when Harris found Eugene Lewis for a 12-yard score.

Cote added his second field goal of the night late in the quarter to give his team a 21-3 edge going into halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, Pipkin and the B.C. offence decided to tempt fate on third-and-goal. Once again, Johnson got the better of Pipkin with a sack to force a turnover on downs.

The Lions defence provided its offence some help in the fourth with a Manny Rugamba interception at Montreal’s 33-yard line. The Lions made Montreal pay with a short drive that ended with a one-yard sneak by Pipkin, cutting the Als’ lead to 11 points.

Seven minutes later, Lyon intercepted Pipkin and scored on a 52-yard return to put Montreal further ahead.

Cote capped off Montreal’s win with his 30th field goal of the season with less than two minutes remaining.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2022.

Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press