SPORTS

Running back Brandon Rutley draws playoff start for Montreal Alouettes

11/15/2014 03:44 EST | Updated 01/15/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - For three years Brandon Rutley has patiently waited for the opportunity to strut his stuff as a starting CFL running back.

He gets that chance Sunday in the biggest game of the year for the Montreal Alouettes.

The five-foot-11, 192-pound Rutley will make his first CFL start when Montreal hosts the B.C. Lions in the East Division final. Rutley replaces Tyrell Sutton, who is out with an ankle injury.

Rutley's first season in Montreal has certainly been a roller-coaster. After impressing at a free-agent camp in San Jose, Calif., Rutley began the '14 campaign on the Alouettes' practice roster.

He dressed for Montreal's 41-5 road loss to B.C. on July 19, registering one carry for six yards. Rutley was released Aug. 11 but rejoined the practice roster two weeks later and remained there through the end of the regular season.

"My mom always said, 'Wait your turn, be patient,'" Rutley said Saturday. "After a while you get tired of hearing that but you have to.

"In professional ball, it's always a wait . . . there's always going to be someone in front of you. You just have to stay ready so when your time comes you don't have to get ready. I'm prepared."

Rutley began his CFL career in 2012 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Being behind starter Avon Cobourne and rising star Chevon Walker, Rutley appeared in five games, mostly as a returner before being released.

The 25-year-old native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has just three career CFL carries for 23 yards and three catches for 31 yards and a TD.

Rutley's time to impress could be limited as Montreal head coach Tom Higgins figures if his team wins Sunday, Sutton could play return for the East Division final in Hamilton. But Higgins praised Rutley for his patience.

"You never know when you're going to be called upon," Higgins said. "Rutley is the kind of guy who goes north-south, is very reliable and dependable with the football.

"He knows what to do protection-wise as well as running the football and can catch very well out of the backfield. So next guy up, we're ready to go and happy to see him play."

Given what's at stake Sunday, there will be pressure on Rutley to perform. But he readily welcomes it.

"This is what it's about," he said. "At the professional level there's pressure in every game to perform well.

"This is the biggest game of the year so you want to go out there and showcase yourself to the best of your ability. I think this week has been the best prep I've ever had in my life so I'm prepared for everything."

Life on a CFL practice roster is neither glamourous nor profitable. Players make roughly $1,000 weekly practising with their club but don't dress for games. They stand on the sidelines during home encounters but don't travel for road contests.

"I understood my role," Rutley said. "I knew I hadn't put up crazy numbers, I hadn't had a lot of playing experience so I needed to get back into the game and understand things from the ground up.

"I've played my role as best I could to get a better understanding of things."

Rutley has also learned how to stick to a budget.

"I don't go out to eat much," he said. "My mom always taught me that if you're going to be a man you've got to be able to cook.

"So I go get groceries, I budget whatever I have and make myself a meal."

Although Montreal will be minus both incumbent Brandon Whitaker (foot) and Sutton, Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian expects the Als to try and establish the run Sunday. The Alouettes were fifth overall, averaging 104.7 yards a game while the Lions were ranked sixth, allowing 113.5 yards per contest.

"I think that's what they've been successful with, establishing the run," said Elimimian, a finalist for the CFL's outstanding player and top defensive performer after recording a league-record 143 tackles this season. "They have some good offensive lineman so I expect them to stay with their game plan."

Rutley is also looking forward to locking horns with Elimimian.

"If you want to showcase yourself you want to against the people who perform at the best levels," he said. "It will be a great challenge to play against Elimimian and (Lions linebacker Adam) Bighill and all those guys."

Both teams will look to end long droughts Sunday. Montreal's last playoff win was the 2010 Grey Cup while B.C. is chasing its first post-season victory since capturing the 2011 CFL title.

B.C. (9-9) is attempting to become the fourth straight team to win the Grey Cup on home soil. But the Lions are taking a most unconventional route through the East Division, earning the crossover after posting a better record than the third-place Toronto Argonauts (8-10).

"It presents different types of challenges but it doesn't matter because whoever loses goes home and whoever wins goes on," said Lions head coach Mike Benevides, who was B.C.'s defensive co-ordinator in 2011. "Our football team has played very very well on the road (5-4 record).

"We typically take care of the football, which is critical on the road, and we've dealt with the adversity of noise since training camp. It's 44 of us against the rest of the world and that's OK by us."

Higgins said defensive lineman Alan-Michael Cash (calf), defensive back Geoff Tisdale (concussion) and special-teamer Daryl Townsend (lower body) are all expected to play.

Benevides said running back/returner Tim Brown will be on the roster at the expense of punter Ricky Schmitt, meaning veteran Paul McCallum will handle the kicking duties. Bighill, defensive linemen Alex Bazzie and Khreem Smith and quarterback Travis Lulay also all return to the roster.

Veteran Kevin Glenn will start at quarterback. Benevides said Lulay, who has spent all but one game sidelined with a shoulder ailment, could play.

"It just depends on what's going on around the quarterback," he said. "Certainly there are no tomorrows and if we have to make a change we can do that but I don't anticipate that at all."

Elimimian admits B.C. was inconsistent during the regular season but believes the team's veterans all understand what's at stake now.

"If there's one game where I feel we're going to bring it all together it's a playoff game with importance," he said. "We've got a lot of veterans and we all know what time it is: You lose and you go home."

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