Alouettes' veterans don't want to squander chance to reach Grey Cup

“Everything means more at this point of the season,” guard Kristian Matte said. “It’s one and done. We just want to keep playing each week.”

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When Avery Williams was a rookie with Ottawa in 2018, the Redblacks went to the Grey Cup and lost to Calgary.

Williams, a middle-linebacker in his first season with the Alouettes, thought getting to the CFL championship game in a nine-team league wouldn’t be that hard. But, until this season, he hadn’t even played in another playoff game.

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“I spoke to Kyries Hebert before that Grey Cup game,” Williams remembered on Thursday. “He said ‘you don’t understand how blessed you are going to a Grey Cup in your rookie season.’ In my head I was thinking I’m going to do this every season; this is easy to me. Those three or four seasons without a playoff appearance and no Grey Cup were surreal. It was a realization this isn’t easy.”

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Williams hasn’t played regularly of late. He suffered an arm injury at the end of July that sidelined him for six games and his playing time has been curtailed since the arrival of free-agent Darnell Sankey.

But Williams and the rest of his Montreal teammates are one game removed from a trip to the Grey Cup. All that stands in the Als’ way in Saturday afternoon’s East Division final at Toronto, is an Argonauts team that went 16-2, was undefeated at BMO Field and are the defending champs. The Argos also won all three regular-season games against the Als — a franchise that hasn’t reached the title game since 2010.

“This game means another opportunity to be great,” Williams said. “It means another opportunity to get my people (family) paid and get my (teammates) another opportunity to do what they love.”

Fellow linebacker Tyrice Beverette went to consecutive Grey Cups in 2019 and ’21 (the CFL cancelled its 2020 season due to COVID-19) with Hamilton, although the Tiger-Cats lost both games to Winnipeg. Now in his second season with the Als, Beverette hasn’t reached the title game since.

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“Fortunately I was there my first two years here, to get a great experience,” Beverette said. “We didn’t come out on top and fell a little short. That just shows me how hard it is to win games, especially championship games. You just have to come out here prepared and just believe.

“Of course we know there’s bigger stakes with this game,” he added. “Lose and go home. But it means the same thing as the rest of the games. This year we’ve been very dynamic (defensively), we’ve been playing together and as the season’s been going on, we’ve been getting stronger.”

Guard Kristian Matte, at 38 the team’s oldest player, was a rookie in 2010, but dressed for only one regular-season game. Over the course of his 13 seasons with Montreal, he has played in only seven playoff games. Matte and the Als reached the division final last year, only to lose at Toronto.

“Everything means more at this point of the season,” Matte said. “It’s one and done. We just want to keep playing each week. It’s exciting, because every year you want the chance to be able to get to the Grey Cup. Right now we’re one game away. We’re a team that has taken it one week at a time all year long. We’ve had some rough moments and some good moments. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity and am really excited.”

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The Als’ final practice this season at Olympic Park was hardly ideal, thanks to the early morning snowfall on Thursday. The field was being cleared by team personnel while the club was conducting its workout.

“Today was a little different and maybe not at 100 per cent,” Matte said while laughing. “Maybe that’ll be a good thing. Maybe rest our legs a little bit.”

Although the Als lost 39-10 in the only game they played at Toronto on Sept. 9 — leading receiver Austin Mack was ejected early — head coach Jason Maas remains undaunted.

“I just think we’re a good football team that plays together and plays for one another,” he said.

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