The first half may have been back and forth, but the Montreal Alouettes were the better team in the second and posted a 34-25 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday in Montreal.
Taking a 19-17 lead into the second half, Montreal added a Chris Leak touchdown pass and an Avon Cobourne rushing TD while shutting out the Riders in the third en route to their third straight win.
Starting QB Anthony Calvillo finished with 170 total yards and two touchdowns on the night.
With the win, the Alouettes improve to 7-1 on the CFL season, while the Riders drop to 4-4.
The first touchdown of the night came courtesy of some strong defence, namely a second-down sack by Montreal's Anwar Stewart on Riders QB Darian Durant. This pushed Saskatchewan back nine yards onto its own 35, forcing a punt — a dangerous thing to do when Montreal's Larry Taylor is in the backfield.
Taylor returned the kick 68 yards for a touchdown to put the Alouettes on top 8-0. Taylor's second punt-return strike of the season was the highlight of a 74-yard night.
The Roughriders wasted no time marching down the field and planted the ball on the Montreal goal line, thanks mostly to a 52-yard pass from Durant to his favourite target of the night, Weston Dressler, who finished with eight receptions for 179 yards.
"We were in it until the end," Dressler said following the game. "I think we showed we can complete with the best team in the league, and I think we just have to keep working at it. We're really close to being a great football team."
Dressler the catalyst
The goal-line was as far as the Roughriders got as running backs Hugh Charles and Wes Cates were both stuffed in their combined three attempts.
Montreal conceded a two-point safety to put Saskatchewan on the board and give the Roughies the ball, but they didn't get to hold on to it for long. Montreal safety Matthieu Proulx picked off a Durant pass with less than two minutes left, which resulted in a single for the Als.
Dressler continued to be the catalyst for the Riders offence, teaming up again with Durant for a 38-yard reception before the quarterback focused his attention on another receiver. Durant rolled out of the pocket, spotted receiver Rob Bagg in the end zone and hit him with a 26-yard pass for the TD.
The Als took a 12-10 lead with five minutes to go in the half, thanks to a Duval field goal, but Saskatchewan's passing game snatched it right back. A six-play possession ended in a big way with Durant finding Gerran Walker 43 yards downfield for a 17-12 lead.
The back-and-forth first half wasn't over yet. Taylor gave his offence plenty of time to work with a 51-yard kick return that put the Als immediately in scoring position.
Calvillo and wide receiver Ben Cahoon connected twice in the eight-play possession, including the go-ahead touchdown with just over 30 seconds to go for a 19-17 lead at the break.
Riders QB has rough 2nd half
Following a 217-yard first half with two TDs, Durant had a less-than-stellar start to the second. He threw two incomplete passes and was once again picked off by Proulx.
"It's a team game and the fault doesn't lie with any individual," said Riders coach Ken Miller. "Darian played probably his best.
"He turned the ball over three times, but he made plays with his feet and was a leader for us. I'm really proud of the way the men battled, but our team still needs to be tuned up some."
Alouettes backup quarterback Leak came in for his first play for the team, a touchdown pass to Kerry Watkins midway through the third for a 26-17 Montreal advantage.
On the next Saskatchewan touch, Durant was sacked by Stewart again as the Riders were held scoreless in the third quarter.
Stewart is now just two sacks short of Elfrid Payton's team record of 52 in his career.
"I should have had about four sacks today," Stewart said. "But it's a blessing just to be here for eight years. It's all about us getting after the quarterback."
In the fourth, the Riders looked to make a big gain into Montreal territory on a punt return by Dressler but were hit with a facemask penalty to push them back to their own 35-yard line.
On the very next play, Chip Cox picked off Durant and Montreal's Avon Cobourne soon punched the ball in the end zone to extend the lead to 16 points with six minutes to go.
The Riders, to their credit, made a game of it. Hugh Charles ran in it for a four-yard strike and Durant connected with Chris Getzlaf for the two-point convert to pull within eight with four minutes to go.
That's as close as they would get as a single by Montreal kicker Duval would ice the game with under 40 seconds to go.