Montreal Alouettes find offense late to take Eastern Semifinal

MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes waited through a defensive battle to find their offensive punch. Cody Fajardo and the Als’ offence used a strong fourth quarter to down the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27-12, to advance out of Saturday’s Eastern Semi-Final.

Fajardo (15-23 passing, 212 yards) threw a pair of touchdowns and an interception in the win and ran four times for 62 yards, lifting the team past the Ticats for the second consecutive season.

William Stanback had 18 carries for 95 yards, along with two catches for 25 yards.

Matthew Shiltz made 13 of 23 passes for 144 yards and an interception. Bo Levi Mitchell took to the field for the first time in the final seven minutes of play in the fourth quarter. In his short time on the field he was 1-4 for six yards and threw an interception. James Butler rushed for 83 yards on 13 carries, while no Ticats receiver had more than 37 yards, as the team was held out of the end zone by the Als’ stout defence.

For the second straight year, the Alouettes move on to face the Toronto Argonauts in the Eastern Final on Sat. Nov. 11 at BMO Field.

Shiltz had control of the Ticats’ first drive and got them to Montreal’s 28-yard line, when receiver Kiondré Smith lost the ball to Als’ defensive back Deonté Ruffin. The Als could only manage a rouge off of the ensuing drive though, thanks to Joseph Zema‘s 51-yard punt that the Als up 1-0, 6:52 into play.

The Ticats’ kicking game came into play next, setting the tone for much of how the first half would unfold. Marc Liegghio‘s 23-yard field goal ended a 5:32 drive, putting the Ticats in front, 3-1 at 12:24.

The Als jumped in front at the start of the second quarter, with David Cote’s 40-yard field goal inching them in front, 4-3. After a slow offensive start from both sides, the Als began to find some rhythm. Fajardo had a 21-yard connection with fullback James Tuck, then held the ball himself and ran into scoring range, trucking 36 yards to get to the Ticats’ 14-yard line. The drive fizzled there, with Cote stepping in for a 15-yard field goal at 6:17 to put the Als up 7-3.

Shiltz led the Ticats to Montreal’s 29-yard line before the Alouettes’ defence swatted away a pair of pass attempts, bringing Legghio out for a 36-yard field goal at 10:13, making it a one-point Als’ lead at 7-6.

After a number of close calls from the Als’ defence, the group finally got an interception. Defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson tipped a Shiltz pass and linebacker Darnell Sankey pulled in the airborne ball, getting Fajardo and the offence back on the field. He only needed one play to get the game’s first touchdown. Fajardo aired out a 30-yard toss to Austin Mack, who pulled the ball in as he crossed the goal line. Cote’s convert made it a 14-6 game with 44 seconds left in the half.

The Als opened the third quarter with a 3:41 drive that ended with Cote’s third field goal of the game sailing through the uprights, this one from 39-yards out, to put the Als up 17-6.

Sticking with Shiltz to open the third quarter, the Ticats’ first drive of the half led to their third field goal of the day. Liegghio connected from 39 yards out at 6:26 to make it a 17-9 game.

Fajardo continued to find holes in the Ticats’ run defence but after trucking for 18 yards to get to Hamilton’s 16-yard line, he threw his first interception of the game, with Richard Leonard getting in front of his pass and snagging it as he hit the turf. The play stood up under a challenge from head coach Jason Maas and the Ticats took over on their own six-yard line. That morphed into a long Hamilton possession, stretching 13 plays and over eight minutes, that Sankey ensured stayed out of touchdown range with an emphatic sack on Shiltz. Liegghio’s fourth field goal of the game came from 47 yards out and cut the score to 17-12 at 5:04 of the fourth quarter.

While touchdowns were hard to come by on the day, Fajardo and the Als put together a timely one in response to the field goal. He led a seven-play, 71-yard drive that was capped by a 14-yard pass to Jake Harty that sent the crowd at Molson Stadium into a frenzy. Cote’s convert at 8:24 had the Als doubled up on the Ticats, at 24-12.

Cote chipped in a 29-yard field goal at 13:42 to push the score to 27-12. Marc-Antoine Dequoy intercepted Mitchell with under a minute to play, allowing the Als to close out the game.

A boisterous section of fans at Molson Stadium sang the Ticats away in the game’s final minutes, setting up a party that felt like it would carry well into Sunday morning.

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