CFL: Defense sets the tone as Montreal Alouettes grind out win over Saskatchewan Roughriders

REGINA – The Montreal Alouettes defense recorded four interceptions to hold off the Saskatchewan Roughriders and secure a 23-17 win.

Najee Murray’s pick off Riders quarterback David Watford in the final moments of the game locked down the first victory of the year for the Als.

Both teams used two quarterbacks in the game for two different reasons. Watford replaced starter Brandon Bridge at halftime for the Riders while Drew Willy left the game for the Als in the third quarter and Jeff Mathews took over duties under centre.

The game started as a defensive battle with neither team managing much on offence in the first half.

On the Als second drive of the game, Willy stepped out of the pocket and found BJ Cunningham deep downfield for a 47 yard gain. In the red zone, the Als had to settle for a field goal to grab the opening 3-0 lead.

The two teams continued to trade possessions with the defenses not allowing much progress. A sack by Willie Jefferson on Willy held the Als on offence and they were forced to punt the ball away. Back to back grabs by Naaman Roosevelt and Shaq Evans pushed the Riders past midfield and into scoring territory. Just when it appeared the Riders would find the end zone at the end of the first quarter, Branden Dozier picked off Bridge and returned it 63 yards to put the Als right back in solid starting position.

It didn’t take long for the Riders to get the football back as Jefferson was back at it again, forcing a Willy fumble and it was recovered by Saskatchewan. They could not take advantage however and failed to move the chains.

The defensive battle continued but the Riders offence started clicking with a 16-yard gain by Tre Mason. Brett Lauther knocked a 39-yard field goal to tie the game.

Willy and the Als responded on the next drive with a 79-yard touchdown grab by Chris Williams who used his speed to break away from the defence and found the end zone with 3:25 left in the first half. The pass tied Willy’s mark for the longest pass in his career.

Montreal continued holding the momentum with a Jermaine Robinson interception on Bridge to instantly get the ball back at midfield. A Boris Bede punt pinned the Riders at the one-yard line and the Als got the ball back with less than a minute remaining in the half. Bede added another field goal to take a 13-3 lead into the halftime break.

Watford slotted in under centre for the Riders to start the second half to make his CFL debut and ended his first drive on a two-and-out. On his next possession, Watford connected with Evans on a 35-yard gain before taking off on a 14-yard rush to get another first down. Saskatchewan kicked another field goal to cut the deficit to 13-6.

The Als defence recorded their third interception of the evening as Joe Burnett picked off Watford. Mathews came in for Willy at quarterback, who did not return to the game. Bede booted another field goal to add another three points to the Als lead, 16-6.

Another big gain by Williams, this one for 47 yards, kept the pressure on the Riders defence. The Als added another point on a rouge.

Christion Jones’ 56-yard kick return put the Riders in great position to make a comeback. It didn’t take long for Watford to find Roosevelt in the end zone for the touchdown but the Riders failed to convert on the two-point conversion.

A costly fumble from Tyrell Sutton gave the football back to the Riders who were still searching for their first lead of the game. Lauther added another field goal to cut the Als lead to 17-15.

Back-to-back first downs by Ernest Jackson and Cunningham moved the chains for the Als and Bede notched his fourth field goal of the night to increase the lead to 20-15 with 4:43 remaining.

Another strong return from Stefan Logan kept the foot on the gas pedal for the Als and led to another Als field goal. Murray picked off Watford in the final minute of the game to secure the win for Montreal. The Riders added a safety with one second left but it was not enough.

Next week, the Riders host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while the Ottawa REDBLACKS visit the Als.

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