Veteran Anthony Calvillo got the win against a rookie making his first CFL start but the 40-year-old Montreal Alouettes quarterback wasn't crowing about it after the game.
The Alouettes took the lead in the first half and held on for a 28-17 win over Drew Willy and the Saskatchewan Roughriders on a flag-filled afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium on Sunday.
The Alouettes (7-4) moved into first place in the East Division, two points ahead of the Toronto Argonauts, who will visit Montreal next Sunday.
"What I liked is that when we came back into the locker-room guys were excited that we won but they were also upset at the fact that we didn't perform offensively," said Calvillo. "That's a good sign."
Calvillo threw a touchdown pass to Brian Bratton while Brandon Whitaker and backup quarterback Adrian McPherson ran for TDs as the Alouettes bounced back from their worst loss of the season, a 43-10 setback last week in Vancouver. Sean Whyte added a pair of field goals and a single on a partially blocked attempt.
However, Bratton was injured while scoring his TD and Whitaker, who picked up 102 receiving yards, left with a sore knee in the fourth quarter. Both will have MRI exams Monday and coach Marc Trestman said he does not expect either to play against the Argonauts.
The 40-year-old Calvillo threw for 266 yards, but all but 30 yards came in the first half as Saskatchewan's stingy defence came together in the final 30 minutes. Montreal did not get a first down in the entire third quarter.
Willy made his debut as a starter after looking good in relief of the injured Darian Durant in consecutive wins over Winnipeg. The former University of Buffalo star threw some fluttery balls, but completed 22-of-35 passes for 225 yards. However, after a TD toss to Kory Sheets, he had two picked off to kill drives in the fourth quarter.
"There were some throws I missed that I usually make that I'm not real happy about, but there were some good things and bad things," said Willy. "We could have won that game.
"We stalled on a few drives and it really hurt us. There were a couple there that I've just got to make."
Whether Willy starts again next Sunday when the Riders play host to Calgary depends on how quickly Durant recovers from a hip injury.
"I feel pretty good," said Durant. "It's just precautionary, making sure I don't further mess anything up.
"I'm not pain free, but who is at this point of the season? With the type of injury I have, if I rush it coming back it can heal 4-to-6 weeks instead of a week, so it's probably best."
Coach Corey Chamblin liked most of what he saw from Willy.
"I thought he did some positive things," he said. "There were one or two times when the receivers didn't help him out.
"But he's a young guy and he'll grow."
Sandro De Angelis kicked field goals of 46 and 48 yards for the Riders (5-6), who were coming off a pair of wins over Winnipeg. The recently acquired De Angelis also missed on two second-half attempts.
The sunny, cool weather seemed ideal for football, but both teams turned it into a festival of flags for the crowd of 23,147. The normally disciplined Roughriders were called 17 times for 181 yards in penalties while Montreal drew 11 calls for 85 yards.
That made it tough for either team to sustain drives.
"There were a lot of penalties and you just can't have that and continue to win on a consistent basis," said Trestman. "We had some of our own.
"Retaliation penalties, and the talk stuff, and the sideline stuff — it doesn't help anyone and it doesn't do our league a service. We're just trying to take care of our own business and do a better job. The team that has the best discipline has the best chance to win, if they don't turn the ball over. We have to work on that."
Montreal scored on the opening drive as Calvillo went to Whitaker on six of seven plays before the stocky running back took the ball in from the three.
Willy moved the ball to the 40 for De Angelis to kick a field goal, but Montreal answered with another TD as a 31-yard toss to Jamel Richardson helped set up backup QB McPherson's one-yard plunge.
The Riders picked up another De Angelis boot in the second quarter, but Calvillo replied with an eight-yard TD toss to Bratton with 38 seconds left in the half for a 22-6 lead at the break. Bratton was shaken up after flying over a low hit from Chris McKenzie and left the game.
The Riders picked up safeties on Montreal's first two possessions of the second half after perfect angled punts by Chris Milo trapped the home team deep.
A Whitaker fumble on the final play of the third quarter gave the Riders the ball at the Montreal 33 and, two plays later, Willy barely avoided a sack and got the ball to Sheets for their only major score of the game.
The Alouettes and Argos will be playing for first place and Toronto will be looking at winning the season series between them after beating Montreal 23-20 earlier in the season.
"We had a chance to get one game ahead of Toronto and we did that, and now we're going to play them and it's going to be huge because they've already got one game on us and this could be one of those four-point swing games," said Calvillo. "Plus we could be up by two games. This is how it's going to be for the rest of the season."
A 62-yard completion to S.J. Green in the first half was the Alouette slotback's league-leading 12th catch for 30 or more yards this season.
The Riders' Weston Dressler easily got the 17 yards he needed to pass the career 5,000-yard mark. He caught six passes for 78 yards.