Montreal sure knows how to kick off a season. Even before the season opener between the Als and Ticats took place the night had a special feeling to it. The Alouettes brought back Mike Pringle to the scene of some of his greatest successes, as in a sign of class and history they signed the former Alouette back to a one day contract so he could retire from the Canadian game in a Montreal Uniform. Pringle took to the field during the opening introductions took his bows, had his sweater number retired and made a prescient comment about everyone sitting back and watching an Alouette victory.
From there it was an Anthony Calvillo show and what a show he put on. Calvillo went into the Alouette record books by passing Sam Etcheverry in the pass completion category, registering his 1,989th completion by games end, passing the Rifles' tally of 1,969. Ben Cahoon joined in on the rewrite, catching his 500th pass as an Al, one more than 50's legend Red O'Quinn. The Ti-Cats Danny McManus even got into the record books (all be it in a losing effort) as he surpassed his own GM, the lengendary Ronnie Lancaster in total yards passing, McManus moves into second place overall with 50,632 all time passing yards.
With all this destiny in the air on Wednesday, it's not surprising that for the most part the Als were in control of the game, though it wasn't until the third quarter that they got fully untracked. And once again a change of possession would prove to be a costly error for the Cats.
While you have to admire Greg Marshall's gutsy calls on third and short, perhaps taking the gamble early in the third quarter when you're still only 7 points behind may not have been the wisest choice. Marshall's gambit didn't pay off, as a Danny McManus handoff didn't get the required yardage to move the chains past the Montreal 44. The Als took over on downs and Anthony Calvillo went to work with a laser like focus. A touchdown pass to Kenny Watkins into broken Ti Cat coverage resulted in the Als taking a 14 point lead. By the end of the third quarter it appeared that the Als were home and clear with their first victory of a brand new year.
But these Ti Cats aren't the team we remember of days gone by, this crew doesn't seem to have any quit in them. Despite Calvillo hooking up with local favourite Sylvain Girard for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead these Cats came back. A remarkable punt return by Craig Yeast as time ran down in the third cut the Als lead to 14 points and put the brakes on the Als offensive momentum.
In the fourth quarter an early interception by Jason Goss moved the Cats even closer to the Alouettes as Goss took the ball all the way to the Als endzone and within ten points of a typical CFL comeback. But on this night the 55th consecutive sell out at McGill would not be denied their celebration, as the Als held off a late Ti Cat charge to win the season opener 31-21.
While the game took a bit of time to develop in the first half, the second thirty minutes was full value for the money. Montreal showing signs that they may once again be the dominant team in the East, while the Cats proved once again that with their defence the game isn't necessarily over while they're still on the field.
All in all a pretty good season opener for 2005, a rather nice preview of what is ahead for us all summer and fall!