Alouettes reach East Division final with 28-17 victory over Tiger-Cats

MONTREAL — After a 2-6 start to the season, the Montreal Alouettes now find themselves one victory away from a Grey Cup berth.

The Alouettes led from start to finish in a 28-17 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East semifinal on Sunday to lock up a spot in next weekend's division final in Toronto.

“I’m so proud of the players,” said Alouettes general manager and interim coach Danny Maciocia. “It wasn’t an easy year for them on or off the field and they never quit. Sometimes it’s hard to explain, you just have to live it to understand and these guys lived it.

“I look at where we are now and I think that a few months ago we were sitting here with a 2-6 record and few people believed we could qualify for the playoffs. I’m so happy for the whole organization, especially the players and coaching staff that went through a lot.”

Montreal rebounded in the second half of the regular season to finish 9-9. The Alouettes started strong on Sunday and locked up the win when David Cote kicked a field goal with 16 seconds remaining.

Trevor Harris threw for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Walter Fletcher and Dominique Davis scored rushing touchdowns.

Fletcher flew under the radar since he was acquired from the Edmonton Elks in June but has proven to be a worthy asset for the Als.

“This opportunity has been a blessing," he said. "When I got that call that I got traded, I really didn't know what to think about it. Fast forward to now it's just been a tremendous journey.

"It's been some ups and downs throughout the year but overall, I think it’s coming together and I'm very happy to hit my stride at the right time.”

Dane Evans threw for 123 yards and one interception. Former Alouettes pivot Matthew Shiltz came on in the third quarter to throw for 127 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“It was just for a spark, that's it,” Ticats coach Orlondo Steinauer said about the QB change. “We weren't able to put the ball in the end zone, something we talked about, and we were able to punch it in there once.”

With the loss, Hamilton will miss the East final for the first time since 2017.

“It feels terrible. It's something we're not accustomed to,” Steinauer said. “We don't really want to get used to it but today we didn't execute well enough to move on in (the) playoffs.

“Emotionally, it's tough. It's new for us here in recent history but right now it's reality.”

Chandler Worthy made a 49-yard return on the opening kickoff. Four plays later, Harris found Jake Weineke with a 13-yard touchdown pass to give Montreal an early 7-0 lead.

The Ticats tried to respond on the following drive but settled for a 47-yard field goal by Seth Small.

Fletcher ran in Montreal’s second touchdown but a command centre review found that he had been stopped at the two-yard line. Davis scored on a QB sneak to give the Alouettes a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Evans found Tim White with a 30-yard pass that led to Small’s second field goal early in the second quarter.

Fletcher extended Montreal's lead on a 33-yard TD run and a single gave Montreal a 22-6 lead at the half.

“Not a lot of people would have bet on us scoring 22 points in the first half and in the way we did,” Maciocia said.

The Tiger-Cats turned to Shiltz at quarterback early in the third quarter and he found Steven Dunbar with a 12-yard pass for Hamilton’s first touchdown. Shiltz then located Anthony Johnson to complete the two-point conversion.

Cote kicked a 13-yard field goal to end the third quarter. Small responded with his second field goal of the game to cut Montreal's lead to 25-17.

During the third quarter and start of the fourth, the Alouettes' coaching staff lost communication with Harris through his in-helmet headset.

“It was quite frustrating,” Maciocia said. “But having said that, Hamilton put on some good fights in the second half of the game.”

“What we decided to do was to give the ball to our running backs, to run the clock and to get out of our own end zone and to get a few points. The way we played today defensively, we knew we had enough points to win.”

Tyrice Beverette sacked Shiltz, who fumbled the football, with 2:14 remaining in the fourth. Chris Ackie recovered on Hamilton’s 24-yard line.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2022.

Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press