Dave Stala made sure Avon Cobourne's first game against the Montreal Alouettes was a victory.
Stala caught two Kevin Glenn touchdown passes to lead the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a tense 34-26 win over Montreal, the team Cobourne helped win consecutive Grey Cup titles before leaving for Steeltown as a free agent.
After the two hooked up in the first half, Glenn hit a wide-open Stala on a 58-yard scoring strike at 11:31 of the fourth giving Hamilton a 33-19 lead, thrilling the Ivor Wynne Stadium gathering of 24,068.
But it was an anxious finish as Montreal countered with Dahrran Diedrick's one-yard TD run with 1:04 remaining. It came after Anthony Calvillo's apparent six-yard touchdown pass to Brian Bratton was overturned by replay but a Hamilton interference penalty put the ball at the one-yard line.
However, the comeback bid essentially ended when Hamilton (3-2) recovered the onside kick attempt with 1:01 remaining and handed Montreal (3-2) its second consecutive defeat.
"I thought it was a big step for our team," said Stala, also a former Alouette. "They (Als) have been the better team in this league the last couple of years and for us to beat them early in the season and make a statement means a lot.''
Cobourne didn't score against Montreal but certainly played a big role in the win. He ran for a game-high 67 yards on 15 carries (4.5-yard average) and added four catches for 59 yards, his 38-yard reception in the first quarter putting Hamilton on the Als' four-yard line. A play later, Quinton Porter ran it in for the game's opening touchdown.
And late in the fourth after Montreal scored to make it a seven-point game, Cobourne took an unnecessary penalty.
"It feels good but we expected to win and as a team that's our mentality," said Cobourne. "I give them respect, but we expected this . . . it wasn't about them, it was about us.
"The penalty was selfish on my part, they did get the best of me and I apologized to the guys for that."
Cobourne spent five seasons with Montreal and was the MVP of its 2009 Grey Cup victory. But he opted to leave the Als in the off-season as a free agent after they wouldn't make him the CFL's top paid running back.
All week Cobourne said he wasn't looking for redemption against his former team.
"I guess it has to be personal for it to have extra emotions to it but it was a business decision (to leave Montreal)," he said. "I think I made the right choice."
Glenn finished 20-of-36 passing for 295 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Stala was his favourite target with five catches for 107 yards.
Montreal starter Anthony Calvillo was 23-of-45 passing for 358 yards and a TD, finding S.J. Green eight times for 150 yards, both game highs. Calvillo also moved to within nine completions of breaking Damon Allen's all-time record of 5,158 after earlier this season surpassing Allen's career TD passes mark of 394.
But the Alouettes lacked the crispness usually associated with a Marc Trestman-coached team, especially on offence. And Montreal at times played undisciplined football with 14 penalties for 121 yards.
Twice Montreal mounted drives exceeding 80 yards but had to settle for field goals. Another possession saw the Als hold the ball for 11 plays but again only register three points.
And in the third, John Bowman returned a Hamilton fumble 27 yards but it was called back due to an illegal block call that led to a Ticats' field goal for a 20-13 lead.
"Effort is not the issue," Trestman said. "We've got the players to do it but I'm disappointed.
"There were a lot of issues. I'd say we took undisciplined penalties at the wrong times two weeks in a row. We've got to isolate where the issues are. it's a state of mind but we have a high-character team.''
Hamilton might've had its own problems with 14 penalties but certainly had a hand in Montreal not playing a sharp game.
"We had some missed plays and that evened itself out," said Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. "I don't want to take anything away from our victory, it was a good victory.
"It was a hard-fought game. With a team of that quality you expect the game to go 60 minutes and it did.''
Hamilton's Justin Medlock kicked three converts, three field goals and two singles. The other points came on a safety.
Jamel Richardson scored Montreal's other touchdown. Sean Whyte added four field goals and two converts.
Richardson's eight-yard TD catch at 14:00 of the second cut Hamilton's half-time advantage to 17-13 in an arduous opening 30 minutes that featured six fumbles (two lost), 21 combined incompletions and 16 combined penalties.
And while Richardson's reception capped a five-play, 75-yard drive, it was one kept alive when a Hamilton fumble recovery was nullified by penalty.
Hamilton converted a Montreal turnover into Stala's 11-yard TD catch at 12:58. It was set up by Jason Shivers' recovery of Green's fumble at the Alouettes' 33-yard line following a 15-yard catch.