The game won’t affect the final standings, but Alouettes head coach Jason Maas insists plenty is at stake Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., TSN1, TSN4, RDS, CJAD 800, 98.5 FM) when his team entertains the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Molson Stadium.
“When it’s a game that doesn’t mean much in the standings and doesn’t change anything, you want to be healthy coming out of it,” Maas said. “But you can’t play football scared. You play every single play like it’s your last. You go out there on every single play and do your job. You have to do your job and believe the guy next to you is going to do the same and make a great effort on every single play.
“When you’re in there, it’s like any other game.”
Not only are the Alouettes (10-7) riding a four-game winning streak, they’re attempting to reach 11 victories for the first time since 2012, when they finished first in the East Division.
These same two teams will meet again next Saturday in the East Division semifinal, when their seasons are on the line. It will mark the third consecutive year Montreal plays Hamilton in the division semifinal, along with the second straight time the Alouettes are the host.
Montreal already has defeated Hamilton twice this season and is attempting to sweep the Ticats for the first time since 2009. A victory would also give the Alouettes a winning home record of 5-4, compared with 6-3 on the road. Following a 3-6 start, Hamilton has won five of eight games.
“I think (11 wins) is a byproduct of the way we work, what we put together,” Maas said. “The determination this whole group has had since day one of training camp. You want to win and get better. You do that by winning. That has to be our mindset, particularly at home. You want to win those games. If it culminates in an 11-win season, and it hasn’t been done here in a while, that’s great … awesome stuff. Things to be proud of for the organization.
“Our goal is to get better, and we’ve accomplished that.”
The majority of Montreal’s starters will play on Saturday because of limited rosters and salary-cap issues. While quarterback Cody Fajardo will start, he’s not expected to play more than the first quarter, following which he’ll be replaced by Caleb Evans or Davis Alexander, although both will receive playing time.
The Alouettes are coming off a bye week, making it paramount Fajardo receive some reps with the starting offence. Fajardo has been consistent, if not spectacular, this season, passing for 3,792 yards and 13 touchdowns. His percentage completion (71.5) is the highest in the CFL, but he’s also been intercepted 12 times.
Tailback William Stanback returns following a one-month absence, while place-kicker David Côté, who missed two games with an injury, also has been activated. Defensive-ends Almondo Sewell (elbow) and Avery Ellis (torso) are both injured.
“We’re resting guys we can rest, but there aren’t too many that we can,” Maas said. “The bottom line is to go out there and play. The only way you get better is by playing. The mindset will be to win.”
Bo Levi Mitchell is expected to start at quarterback for Hamilton. Mitchell, who missed time this season with injuries — included a fractured leg — also needs to feel he’s prepared for the playoff match.
“What’s best for our football team is to get Bo out there playing a little bit,” head coach Orlondo Steinauer told reporters this week. “We need to get some jelling; some things we want to see. Maybe there’s advancements in play-calling, some checks? Just a little bit more continuity there. This game’s perfect for us. This is exactly what we need for where we’re at right now.”
Tim White, the CFL’s leading receiver with 1,269 yards, is a healthy scratch. That means he potentially could be overtaken by the Als’ Austin Mack, who has 1,154 yards and has played one fewer game.
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