Alouettes complete season sweep of Tiger-Cats on a winning streak

“We’re going into the playoffs with five straight wins,” said QB Cody Fajardo. “That’s about as hot as you can get.”

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The Alouettes will enter the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, but that will be considered meaningless in the coming cold months of winter if they can’t win the next three — provided they make it that far.

Montreal concluded its regular season with a 22-20 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday afternoon at Molson Stadium before 16,402 spectators.

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The game hardly will be remembered as a masterpiece, given the number of principals who didn’t play or, at the very least, were limited. But if pro sports is predicated on momentum, the Alouettes certainly have an abundance of it heading into the post-season, which begins next Saturday afternoon with a rematch against the Ticats in the East Division semifinal at the McGill University venue.

“You couldn’t tell by our demeanour in practice, in meetings, the way we approach the week, whether we’re on a streak of winning or losing,” head coach Jason Maas said. “The way we come to work is what I’ve been proud of. To go in hot, and I know the history of the CFL. I’ve been in it long enough to know the hot teams generally have success. But you don’t have success by focusing on that.”

Montreal finished with an 11-7 record, good for second place in the division. It’s the first time since 2012 the franchise won 11 games. It also produced a three-game sweep of the Ticats for the first time since 2009. The victory also improved the Als’ home record to 5-4 this season. Third-place Hamilton went 8-10, admirable considering it was 3-6 halfway through the season.

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“It’s not about the best team in terms of record,” quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “It’s about the team that gets hot at the right time. We’re going into the playoffs with five straight wins. That’s about as hot as you can get. We know a lot of people aren’t talking about the Montreal Alouettes. That’s okay. Keep it that way.

“It’s great momentum going into that (playoff) game,” he added. “You lose that game (Saturday) and they start believing they can come into our house and win. We knew that we wanted to make a statement. It took everybody in this room to win that game. I’m really proud of this team. You need depth to win a Grey Cup, and I think we have that here.”

Fajardo completed six of eight passes for 55 yards and a six-yard touchdown pass to Tyson Philpot, only 61 seconds following the opening kickoff, before being replaced by Caleb Evans early in the second quarter. The Alouettes were presented with great field position to start the game after Tyreik McAllister fumbled the opening kickoff. Montreal safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy, the team’s nominee as most outstanding Canadian, forced the turnover.

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Montreal’s only other touchdown came off a 99-yard punt return by James Letcher Jr. early in the fourth period. Letcher, who has brought an electrifying dimension to special teams since replacing the injured Chandler Worthy, went down the right sideline before cutting into the middle and outrunning the opposition.

Two weeks ago, in the Alouettes’ last game, Letcher returned a field goal 125 yards for a score.

“I like to tell people it’s not on me, it’s in me,” said Letcher, only 5-foot-7 and 172 pounds. “I always make the first guy miss, every time. If they give me that chance I’m going to make him miss and I’m going to run to green. I’ve been telling everybody my whole life, I don’t like to get tackled, so I try to run as fast as I can.

“It’s instinct. Whatever I feel at the time, I do it. It’s never something planned. It’s what I’m feeling at the time.”

Alouettes tailback William Stanback, in his return to the active roster for the first time in a month, gained 48 yards on seven carries and appears ready for the playoffs, although he also fumbled once. Montreal’s offence was largely ineffective following Fajardo’s exit, limited to nine first downs, 195 yards’ net offence and 43 plays.

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“I feel ready,” Stanback said. “Just have to continue getting my feet under me. Sometimes when you miss one or two games … it puts you back a bit. Having this game, getting tackled again, it feels good. I felt like it never should have been a close game. I let the ball go. I put that on me. I took some momentum away from us with that. I got us punched in the stomach with that.”

Defensively, the Als limited the Ticats to 11 first downs, 237 yards’ net offence and 47 plays. McAllister returned a field goal 122 yards for a touchdown while Sean Thomas-Erlington, who always excels against Montreal, scored on a five-yard run. Thomas-Erlington, who played at Université de Montréal, gained 80 yards on 12 carries.

Hamilton starter Bo Levi Mitchell, in only his sixth game this season, completed five of 10 passes for 53 yards in the first half before being replaced by Taylor Powell. The Ticats had one first down through 30 minutes.

Powell was intercepted twice, while Shawn Lemon and Lwal Uguak produced sacks. It was Lemon’s ninth sack in 13 games.

Guard Pier-Olivier Lestage, the Alouettes’ nominee as most outstanding offensive-lineman, didn’t finish the game. Linebacker Reggie Stubblefield, the outstanding rookie nominee, also was injured on the game’s final play.

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