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Alouettes focused on winning ahead of Grey Cup banner reveal against Redblacks

MONTREAL — Cody Fajardo knows watching the Grey Cup banner rise at Molson Stadium will stir up his emotions.

But deep down, the Montreal Alouettes quarterback has one thing on his mind heading into the unveiling: winning a football game.

After two games on the road to start the 2024 CFL season, the reigning champions host the Ottawa Redblacks in their home opener Thursday night. The Alouettes have sold more than 20,000 tickets, effectively selling out what’s expected to be a rowdy Molson Stadium.

"I'll probably get chills, might get a little emotional,” Fajardo said Wednesday. “But to tell you the truth, once the ball's kicked, it's football at the end of the day.

“It'll be an exciting start to the game, but hopefully we give the fans something more exciting at the end.”

The Alouettes won eight straight games over the regular season and playoffs, before hoisting the Grey Cup in November. This year they’ve picked up where they left off with impressive road wins against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Elks to bring their winning streak to 10.

Head coach Jason Maas doesn’t expect his team to be overwhelmed by the hype on Thursday.

On the contrary, he believes the high energy could galvanize his squad, especially with a new cast of players witnessing the rewards of winning a title.

“Seeing the banner lift will be an incredible feeling for the guys that were here last year,” he said. “For the guys that are coming in new, just to see that and feel a part of this … this is a glimpse for them to understand that this is reality. This can be reality.

“Everybody will be on an emotional high but I don't see it being let down at all … if anything it's a lift up."

Meanwhile, the Redblacks are treating the matchup like it’s any other game.

Ottawa head coach Bob Dyce characterizes Montreal’s hot start, the banner reveal and the packed crowd gearing up for a party as “external stuff.”

“That's not the stuff that we focus on. We focus on ourselves,” he said. “Montreal just happens to be the opponent this week. They just happen to be having their banner night, none of those things are going to dictate what happens on the field.”

Coming off a bye in Week 1, Ottawa opened the season with a 23-19 victory against Winnipeg at TD Place last week. The Redblacks’ defence limited the Bombers to a measly 42 rushing yards and forced quarterback Zach Collaros into two interceptions on an inefficient night.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Dru Brown was a tidy 20-for-33 for 238 passing yards and a touchdown pass in his first game as Ottawa’s starter. He also beat his former team and mentor Collaros in the process.

“Dru did a fantastic job in leading the offence,” Dyce said. “I knew the moment wouldn't be too big on him.

“Everyone was thinking Dru versus his old team, but that's not how Dru would approach it. Dru would approach it as an opportunity to win a game for the Redblacks, didn't make a difference who he was playing.”

The opponent might make a difference Thursday night as Brown lines up against a stout Alouettes defence that was crucial to last year’s championship run.

After holding the Bombers to 12 points in Week 1, Montreal smothered Edmonton last week, picking off quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson twice. Linebackers Darnell Sankey, Tyrice Beverette and Bryce Cosby each had seven or more tackles as the Elks scored 20 points thanks to a late touchdown.

"It's a great test for us,” Brown said. “When you're going into a road game it's pretty much a you-against-the-world type of feeling and we got to kind of let that fire burn from that.

"Us as an offence, matching and exceeding their physicality (is key)."

In what will be the 27-year-old Brown’s fifth CFL start, Montreal safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy hopes the Alouettes can hand him his first loss in a Redblacks jersey.

"I've watched the tape and I'm expecting a good game. He didn't make a lot of mistakes,” Dequoy said. “I'm expecting him to make some great throws and we’ll just try to capitalize on the fact that probably it's just a bit new for him, so if he's going to make mistakes we got to capitalize on it."

OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-0) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (2-0) Thursday, Molson Stadium.

619 DAYS: Alouettes receiver Reggie White Jr. will start Thursday, playing his first game in 619 days due to knee surgery. The 28-year-old White had 722 receiving yards in 15 games in 2022.

WYNN’S DEBUT: Defensive tackle Dylan Wynn will play his first game for the Alouettes after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury. The 2019 CFL all-star signed with Montreal last off-season following four seasons in Hamilton.

IT’S A SCORCHER: The temperature is expected to rise to 32 C with the humidex exceeding 40 on Thursday, the last day of a three-day heat wave in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press