With their top two receivers and starting running back out hurt, the Montreal Alouettes showed their resilience posting 356 yards of net offence in a 34-28 win Saturday over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Jamel Richardson caught eight passes for 161 yards and third-string tailback Chris Jennings (regular backup Victor Anderson missed the game with injury too) had 125 all-purpose yards as Montreal did just enough to stave off a late Saskatchewan comeback.
"That's all we preach is team-first," said Richardson, who set up Montreal's first touchdown — an 18-yard pass from Anthony Calvillo to Bo Bowling — with a 51-yard grab of his own.
"That's why I was never mad about my production because other guys were stepping up, and right now this is a total team effort."
Richardson was referring to his diminished role in Montreal this year. He led the league in receiving last season with 1,777 yards but entered Saturday's game third on the team and 12th overall with 793.
In his last two games, however, Richardson has caught 11 passes for 270 yards.
"The coaches leaned on me a little bit," he said. "They told me they were going to feed me and I'm hungry. I've been missing the whole season and now it's time to step up and time to win a championship."
The win extended Montreal's lead atop the CFL's East Division by six points over the Toronto Argonauts. The Alouettes (10-6) clinched first place Friday when Toronto lost 44-32 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Saskatchewan (8-8) meanwhile missed a chance for the second straight week to clinch a playoff berth, though a Hamilton Tiger-Cats loss to the Calgary Stampeders later Saturday would guarantee the Riders at least a crossover spot.
Montreal made the most of the breezy conditions, scoring their first 27 points with the wind at its back
With the wind gusting to over 50 km/h at kickoff, Saskatchewan capped its first possession with a one-yard TD toss from Drew Willy to fullback Graeme Bell. It was Bell's first touchdown since joining his hometown team in 2011 and third overall of his seven-year CFL career.
Montreal took advantage of the wind in the second quarter and put up 13 unanswered points on three consecutive possessions.
Calvillo found Bowling in the end zone in between Sean Whyte field goals of 23 and 52 yards.
But the Riders regained the lead with two minutes left in the first half when Dressler ran a punt back 66 yards for Saskatchewan's first punt return score since Jason Armstead did so in 2007 against the Edmonton Eskimos.
Backup QB Adrian McPherson's one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave Montreal the lead for good. He scored at 8:23 of the third after a pass interference call negated a goal-line interception by Chris McKenzie and an unnecessary roughness penalty to Odell Willis set Montreal up at the Riders' three-yard line.
Calvillo then ran in two touchdowns for the first time in his CFL career to cap a run of 21 unanswered points and put the game out of reach. He completed 14 of 26 passes for 256 yards.
"I'm trying to pick up first downs with my feet," said Calvillo. "I told myself I was going to do that as we get closer to the playoffs. It just helps our football team move forward and it just happened to be that I was running close to the end zone."
It was a botched onside punt by Sandro DeAngelis that gave Montreal the ball on the Riders' 45 and set up Calvillo's first score of the game.
They needed all of them too, as Saskatchewan answered back in the final quarter with Dressler's 12th TD grab of the year and Kory Sheets' 10th rushing score.
"We've been challenging ourselves to play consistent football which we have not done," said Calvillo. "We did a decent job last week against Toronto and we wanted to follow up with a great game which today we did."
Riders quarterback Darian Durant went 24-for-40 for 219 yards and one TD.
Sheets ran 10 times for 45 yards but had two late-game passes go through his fingers, and Taj Smith led Saskatchewan's receivers with four catches for 52 yards.
"My biggest concern is to make sure this team is winning football games," said Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin. "The playoffs don't start today. They start when they start. It's about winning football games.
"Looking too far down the road you can't do anything unless you take care of today and today we have to learn how to win football games."
NOTES: Calvillo has now thrown a touchdown pass in 16 straight games ... Saskatchewan and Montreal were the two least-penalized teams in the league entering Week 17 but combined Saturday for 220 yards in penalties, including the second-quarter ejection of Shea Emery after he appeared to punch a Saskatchewan lineman in the groin ... The Riders honoured long-time offensive lineman Gene Makowsky in a halftime ceremony. Makowsky is first on the team's all-time games played list and retired after the 2011 season.