SPORTS

Alouettes can clinch East Division playoff berth with home win over Argonauts

10/31/2014 06:44 EDT | Updated 12/31/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - What appeared so distant two months ago can become a reality Sunday for Tom Higgins and the Montreal Alouettes.

Montreal (8-8) can clinch a playoff spot with a home win over the Toronto Argonauts (7-9). That's indeed heady stuff considering earlier this year the Alouettes were struggling with a 1-7 record.

"We're writing a pretty neat story and we'd like to make sure it continues," said Higgins, the Alouettes head coach. "But this season isn't anywhere close to being done.

"We've lined up the whole second half of the season to finish the job that we started. We feel confident and there's no reason we can't go out and do what we want to do."

Montreal is the CFL's hottest team, having won five straight and seven of its last eight games. A victory Sunday would send the Alouettes to the playoffs for a 19th straight year.

Should the Ottawa Redblacks beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night and Montreal defeats Toronto, the Alouettes would win the season series with the Argos and clinch top spot in the East Division.

"As silly as it sounds, the athletes really didn't panic and I don't think the coaches did," said Higgins of the team's poor start. "We knew there was a lot of pressure to win, and win now.

"And that's what the team did. They tightened their chin straps, got down to work, and made it possible to be where we're at."

Toronto also remains very much in the East Division playoff picture. The Argos would clinch the season series Sunday with a win and qualify for the playoffs if Ottawa also upset Hamilton.

Toronto will capture first in the East Division if it can beat Montreal on Sunday, then get past Ottawa next weekend.

"We need to have this one," Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said earlier this week. "We have to find a way to play like what's at stake is at stake.

"If we win this game, our chances are pretty good."

Jonathan Crompton is 7-1 as Montreal's starter and unbeaten (4-0) at home. However, the sophomore quarterback hasn't thrown for over 300 yards in a game since becoming the No. 1 quarterback and has almost as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns (nine).

But Crompton, 27, isn't surprised by the team's turnaround.

"I know what this team's about," said Crompton, who played collegiately at the University of Tennessee. "Everybody knows what this team's about. We stay together, we have a short-term memory and we're focused. Nobody turned away from each other."

Montreal's defence has been outstanding of late, allowing just 60 points over the club's last five games. Two weeks ago, the unit kept Toronto's offence out of the end zone in a 20-12 win at Rogers Centre.

Toronto starter Ricky Ray, the CFL's passing leader, threw for just 202 yards in that game with an interception. The Alouettes also recovered two fumbles, not a surprise given they lead the league with 44 takeaways.

"Their defence dominated our offence," said Milanovich. "They were more physical than us.

"They seemed hungrier than us. They made more plays than us and it showed in the score."

Ball security has been an issue all season for Toronto, which has surrendered a CFL-high 25 fumbles. The Argos have given up a league-leading 116 points off turnovers and their 44 giveaways trail only Winnipeg (47).

Two weeks ago, Montreal's defence line consistently got to Ray, who leads the CFL in TDs (28), passing yards (4386), and completions (399).

"Keep him off the field," said Higgins. "When you do that, it's hard for Ricky to showcase his talent.

"Put pressure on him, and don't allow him to establish the run. We're good at home, and there's no reason we can't take advantage of it."

Montreal will conclude its regular season Nov. 8 in Hamilton.

NOTES - Toronto has made a league-high 42 field goals this year. … Montreal's John Bowman has a team-high 11 sacks . . . The Alouettes average a league-low 288 offensive yards per game. … Montreal is 5-1 against East Division opponents while Toronto is 3-3.

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