Montreal Alouettes outlast REDBLACKS in defensive battle

MONTREAL — Defensive back Ciante Evans had two interceptions and the Montreal Alouettes’ defense forced five total turnovers without allowing a single touchdown in the 19-12 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Saturday.

Rookie wide receiver Austin Mack had himself a debut game with 120 yards on six catches as the connection with newcomer quarterback Cody Fajardo complemented a dominant defensive effort by the Als.

Fajardo completed 14 of 21 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown run and running back William Stanback finished with 20 touches for 86 total yards as the Alouettes iced the game late at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium in Montreal.

Quarterback Nick Arbuckle threw three interceptions on a 19-of-35 performance for 176 yards, as the REDBLACKS dropped their first game of the season. Ottawa’s defence sacked Fajardo six times, led by 2022’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Lorenzo Mauldin IV and Douglas Coleman II with two each.

Kicker Lewis Ward made all four of his field goals for the REDBLACKS.

» Box Score: REDBLACKS, Als by the numbers
» Gallery: REDBLACKS at Als images

Fajardo started the game with a highlight-worthy play by finding Mack behind the REDBLACKS defence for 61-yards that put his team on first-and-goal with his first pass attempt as an Alouette. Two plays later the quarterback called his own number to run it into the end zone for his first score in Montreal.

Arbuckle’s first pass in Ottawa was not nearly as successful as Fajardo’s, going deep to the right to Jaelon Acklin but finding Als Evans instead for his first interception of the season.

The following couple of drives saw both defences force punts without giving much in terms of field position, until Als returner Chandler Worthy found a way on special teams by returning a punt for a touchdown. Or so it seemed until an offside penalty brought the play back.

REDBLACKS punter Richie Leone got another chance to punt but mishandled the snap and was tackled close to this own end zone to turn it over on downs and give Montreal the ball in great field position. The Alouettes couldn’t turn it into a touchdown though after a Coleman II sack on Fajardo forced a David Côté field goal that made it 10-0.

After another round of punts from both teams, Arbuckle and the REDBLACKS’ offence got going. First the quarterback found Jaelon Acklin for 23 yards over the middle, then a facemask penalty by Dionté Ruffin and a Justin Hardy catch got Ottawa into Montreal’s territory. An eight-yard run by Arbuckle on second-and-10 prompted head coach Bob Dyce to send in Ward for a 41-yard field goal that cut the Als lead to seven.

Mauldin IV forced Fajardo out of the pocket and into an incompletion on second down in the next drive to force the Alouettes to punt the ball one more time.

Arbuckle and Acklin connected again on the next possession but an illegal block to the face penalty negated another chunk play by Ottawa’s duo and forced the REDBLACKS into another punt.

Both defences continued to dominate, first with Michael Wakefield bringing Fajardo down to stop a promising drive by the Alouettes and then Evans coming down with another Arbuckle pass deep down the field for Ottawa’s third turnover of the game. Pressure by the REDBLACKS’ defensive line prevented Montreal from scoring points off the interception, though, as Cariel Brooks and Carter sacked Fajardo in back-to-back plays.

Ottawa’s offence got another chance late in the first half and marched into Alouettes’ territory one more time. Tyrie Adams converted a third-and-one and Arbuckle completed seven straight passes before slightly missing wide receiver Nate Behar and Acklin in the end zone in consecutive plays and having to settle for another field goal that cut Montreal’s lead to 10-6 going into halftime.

The second half started with another bomb down the field, this time by Arbuckle to Quan Bray deep down the field to put Ottawa in scoring position early in the third quarter. Montreal’s defence held strong after that to prevent a touchdown and force Ward to kick his third field goal of the game to hold to a 10-9 lead.

Fajardo’s first drive of the half looked a lot like most of his previous ones with a lot of REDBLACKS defenders collapsing the pocket and making it hard for the Als to move the ball.


After another REDBLACKS punt, though, Fajardo and Mack had a deja vu moment, connecting again on a big play to get the Alouettes offence going. It looked like Montreal was going on another scoring trip but Ottawa’s defense had other plans, forcing a fumble on a quarterback sneak by Fajardo that gave the ball back to Arbuckle and co, who didn’t capitalize and punted again.

It took two and a half quarters for wide receiver Kaion Julien-Grant to get his first catch of the season but it was well worth the wait, catching a short slant by Fajardo and taking it 51-yards deep into REDBLACKS’ territory. The next set of downs had Coleman II sacking the Alouettes quarterback for the second time – fifth in total by Ottawa – to force Côté in for his second score, extending the lead to 13-9.

After a couple of punts by both teams, Arbuckle got an offensive possession going with darts over the middle to Hardy and Behar, but once again the drive stalled in Alouette territory and in came Ward to split the uprights for the fourth time in the game.

The Fajardo-to-Mack connection showed up again in the drive, putting Montreal in scoring position once more. Stop if you’ve heard this before, though: a sack by Ottawa kept the Als from moving the ball further and had them settling for another field goal that extend the lead to 16-12.

The next possession had Montreal coming down with another turnover as Najee Murray picked a deep pass by Arbuckle, the REDBLACKS’ pivot’s third interception of the game.

Two more punts by both teams later, Stanback started to heat up against a stout Ottawa defence, finding running lanes and moving the ball into Ottawa territory to give Côté a chance to make it a seven-point game.

Arbuckle and the REDBLACKS had one last chance to tie the game late, but fell short after Evans almost caught what would be his third interception of the game.

The REDBLACKS host the Calgary Stampeders in Week 2 next Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Ottawa, while the Als take the field again two weeks from now after their bye when they travel to Hamilton to face the Tiger-Cats on June 23 in Week 3 action.

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