MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes defense was the beginning, middle and end of the story on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium, where the hometown Als claimed a gritty 21-9 decision over the visiting Toronto Argonauts.
Coordinator Noel Thorpe’s Montreal defense limited the Argos to just 142 pass yards, registered two sacks and made late-game adjustments to stymie a Toronto comeback attempt.
Veteran linebacker Kyries Hebert paced the Alouettes (3-4) with eight tackles and a key fumble recovery, while Toronto (3-5) defensive tackle Dylan Wynn led an admirable losing effort from the Argo defense with seven tackles and a sack.
Montreal opened the scoring midway through the first quarter, when Durant bombed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Ernest Jackson. French native Boris Bede’s convert gave the hosts a 7-0 lead.
The Als’ kicker then sent a second-quarter field goal attempt from 31 yards out wide right and out the back of the end zone for a single.
Later in the second quarter, after a big 3rd-and-2 gamble paid off, Durant found receiver George Johnson in the end zone — the major was the first of Johnson’s career, and Bede’s ensuing convert pushed the Montreal lead to 15-0.
Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu responded with a 47-yard field goal to get the Argos on the board.
Veteran Alouettes defensive end John Bowman then forced Toronto quarterback Jeff Mathews into a fumble, which was recovered and returned by Kyries Hebert to the Toronto three-yard line. Two penalties and a Toronto red-zone stand later, the Als were forced to kick a field goal and settle for an 18-3 lead at the break.
Friday’s first half was defined by defense; both Mathews and Durant found themselves under constant pressure, each hit the turf via sack twice and was forced to throw the ball away on multiple occasions.
Toronto head coach Marc Trestman opted to put Cody Fajardo under center to begin the second half; the Nevada alum marched the Argos into field-goal range, and a 31-yard Hajrullahu kick cut the Montreal lead to 18-6.
Bede restored the hosts’ 15-point lead on the ensuing possession, hitting a 21-yard chip shot.
With Fajardo in the game, the visitors found their ground game; Toronto marched down inside the Montreal 10-yard line on a time-consuming 12-play drive, only to turn the ball over on downs after a risky 3rd-and-5 attempt fell incomplete in the end zone.
Toronto did opt to kick — a Hajrullahu field goal from 37 yards out — on its following possession, cutting its deficit to 21-9.
Tempers boiled over just prior to the three-minute warning after a dangerously high tackle from Hebert on Fajardo as the Argos quarterback raced up the sideline.
Toronto’s run game continued to cause problems for the Alouettes late, and the Argos marched down to the Montreal 23-yard line with a minute left. Once there, they found the end zone twice yet failed to score: Fajardo connected with Jeff Fuller on a touchdown pass that was called back on a Chris Van Zeyl blocking penalty, then Khalil Paden dropped a picture-perfect pass on 3rd-and-long to seal the game’s outcome.
Quarterback Darian Durant managed the game well for Montreal, completing 18 of 27 passes for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the Toronto duo of Jeff Mathews and Cody Fajardo was a non-factor in throwing 142 yards.
Running back-wise, Tyrell Sutton ate up 66 yards and significant clock for the Als; Brandon Whitaker collected 120 all-purpose yards for the Argos.
The two squads will meet again in Toronto for the Week-9 end of the home-and-home series.