Montreal Alouettes quarterback Garrett Fugate gets tackled by the Ottawa Redblacks during second half CFL pre-season action in Ottawa on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA — It might be a different year, but the script hasn’t changed for the Alouettes: the defence does its best to keep the team in games while the offence is struck in neutral.
And guess what? It’s the exhibition season, so it really doesn’t matter. At least, not yet. But if Als fans were looking for a glimmer of hope on offence, they’ll have to wait at least another week.
If head coach Mike Sherman was undecided who will be the team’s starting quarterback this season, he’s probably no clearer in his mind — at least not publicly — following Thursday night’s 27-7 defeat to the Ottawa Redblacks before 20,539 TD Place Stadium spectators.
Drew Willy, who has been receiving the first reps with the starting offence throughout most of training camp, started for Montreal and, although limited to only two series, generated a modicum of offence — albeit a pair of Boris Bede field goals from 34 and 32 yards.
“There were some good things but, as you know in this league, you need touchdowns to win,” said Willy, who should know. The veteran has played for and won games in the Canadian Football League through stops in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Toronto.
Willy completed four of six passes for 53 yards against Ottawa.
“Field goals aren’t going to do it. We have to be good in the red zone,” Willy continued. “We need to make sure, when we get down there, we get touchdowns and not three points. It’s something you definitely need to clean up, whether it’s mental, physical, locking into details — it’s something we’ve got to clean up. In this league, you’re going to have to score at least 25 … 28 points to be consistently winning games.
“Obviously, seven points is not going to do it.”
Willy was replaced by second-year pro Matt Shiltz before the first quarter had elapsed. Believed to be the future quarterback of this team, Shiltz played the remainder of the first half and well into the third quarter.
Shiltz was frequently under pressure and displayed poise. On his opening series, for example, the ball sailed over his head on the snap from centre. But Shiltz never panicked, recovered and was able to throw the ball out of bounds, avoiding a sack or a needless turnover.
He provides a different dimension than Willy, the prototypical dropback quarterback, thanks to his mobility. Shiltz completed eight of 13 passes for 114 yards, but also committed a critical turnover just before halftime.
Scrimmaging from the Redblacks’ seven, his pass for Eugene Lewis was tipped and intercepted by Anthony Cioffi, who returned it 107 yards for a touchdown. But the score was nullified due to a penalty.
“I felt like I made a couple of good throws and, obviously, a couple of things I’d like back,” Shiltz said. “It was the typical things you’d normally see in that first pre-season game. There are definitely things we need to clean up to be successful in the regular season.”
Nonetheless, there were some encouraging signs on offence.
Veteran tailback Tyrell Sutton, despite limited playing time, gained 19 yards on only three carries, including a 10-yard scamper on Montreal’s first offensive play. With the offence a work in progress, due to the uncertainty at quarterback, it behooves the Als to take advantage of Sutton’s playmaking abilities.
And Lewis, in his second season with the team, looks as though he could become an integral part. He led Montreal receivers, with four catches for 82 yards. That included a 41-yard gain early in the second half — after the Als exited their dressing room late and were assessed a delay of game penalty to launch the third quarter.
“I’m taking my talents to the next level this year,” Lewis said. “We had too many penalties tonight, some miscues on offence. It’s a learning experience. That’s what the pre-season’s for: to get the little wrinkles out now.
“The potential I see with this team, the sky’s the limit. I’m excited in the direction we’re going.”
The Als committed three turnovers, including two fumbles. Amir Carlisle, attempting to crack the roster as a tailback, had a long punt-return — only to be tackled by the punter, Richie Leone, and then fumbling.
The Als also were penalized 13 times for 134 yards, bringing back memories of last season, when the team had a league-worst 3-15 record, ending the year with 11 consecutive defeats.
“We moved the ball, but we’ve got to get touchdowns,” said Sherman, coaching his first CFL game. “We left approximately eight points on the board that could have made a huge difference. Overall, it’s hard for me to say that was a great effort by those guys.
“They did move the ball, but we had way too many penalties and we turned the ball over three times. There were some decent things out there that we did. You’re not going to win a game with three turnovers. I don’t think I’ve seen that many penalties.”
Defensively, safety Jermaine Robinson continued to solidify his chances, intercepting a Trevor Harris pass in the opening quarter. Harris suffered a knee injury on the play when he was tackled by Chris Ackie. And Khalid Wooten intercepted Danny Collins in the third quarter.
“I just go out there and make plays. Make it happen,” said Robinson, who took advantage of Joe Burnett not dressing. “I know we’re going to have a great secondary.
“This game’s a day-by-day basis. Showing they can trust me out there, I think that’s what I earned today.”
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