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Rolling Alouettes visit Elks with chance to wrap up a home playoff game

EDMONTON — The goal for the Montreal Alouettes is simple — clinch second place in the CFL's East Division and lock down a home playoff game.
Montreal Alouettes wide receiver Tyson Philpot (6) celebrates his touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts with teammates Tyler Snead (85) and Austin Mack (81) during second half CFL football action in Montreal, Friday, Sept.15, 2023. The goal for the Alouettes is simple — clinch second place in the CFL's East Division and lock down a home playoff game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

EDMONTON — The goal for the Montreal Alouettes is simple — clinch second place in the CFL's East Division and lock down a home playoff game.

The Alouettes visit the 4-12 Edmonton Elks on Saturday afternoon, but could already have clinched home field advantage in the Eastern semifinal game by then.

“We want to pay them (our fans) back by giving them that home playoff game, because I know it’s very difficult to play here, (in Montreal)” said Alouettes quarterback Cody Fajardo, who said he hated going to Percival Molson Stadium when he was under centre for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. 

“As an opposing player, playing here was always difficult, and now I’m thankful to be on the home side and the crowd pumping us up.”

In order for the 8-8 Hamilton Tiger-Cats to overtake the 9-7 Als for second spot in the East, they need to beat the B.C. Lions Friday night and beat the Als on the final weekend of the season. 

They also need the Als to lose to the Elks on Saturday. If Hamilton doesn’t get a combination of all of those things, the Als, who have already won their season series with the Ticats, get the home playoff game.

Meanwhile, the 4-12 Elks are playing for jobs in 2024. The team, which started the year 0-9, has already been eliminated from the playoff hunt.

The Alouettes have won three in a row and their defence has been dominant, giving up only 29 points over the last 12 quarters. The caveat is that one of those wins came against Calgary and the other two were over Ottawa, who, like Edmonton, are at or near the rear of the league standings. 

But the play of the Als defensive line and its corps of linebackers has been stellar. The Als have recorded 11 sacks over the past two games, including three each from Tyrice Beverette and Reggie Stubblefield. Veteran lineman Shawn Lemon recorded his 100th career sack last week.

In back-to-back wins over Ottawa, both Lemon and Beverette returned fumbles for touchdowns.

“Our players are playing on an extremely high level right now, and it’s been fun to watch,” said Als coach Jason Maas.

“This is pretty special, what these guys have been able to accomplish, particularly these last two games. It’s been very, very impressive.”

The Als could be in a situation where they’ve clinched the No. 2 seed in the East before they play the Elks, if the Lions do them a favour Friday night. Could that have an effect on how Maas approaches the game? Will some players see limited reps, as rest and injury prevention take over? 

Elks coach and general manager Chris Jones doesn’t worry about that.

“I really don’t care how they approach it,” he said, after letting the media know he was unhappy with the Elks’ concentration level at practice Thursday afternoon. “Ours is just come out and try to hit them in the mouth and be more physical than they are. If we don’t, it’s going to be real tough on us.”

And the evaluations have already begun to see who will be on the Elks’ roster in 2024.

“It’s an opportunity for some of these guys to start showing that they’re real players for the future,” said Jones. 

The Als’ staunch defence will be tested by Elks running back Kevin Brown, who is third on the league rushing charts with 1,032 yards. And he knows that the only way he can be successful on Saturday is if the Elks take the fight to Montreal rather than wait for something to happen.

“I feel like the secret to their success is that they play fast, they play hard and they’re physical.” said Brown. “For us, we have to match their physicality, or even be better than them.”

While the Elks have just four wins this season, they’ve all come in the second half of the 2023 campaign, a sign that the team is getting better. Brown said he can feel that things with the franchise are moving in the right direction — and, as Jones vets the roster looking towards 2024, Brown is looking to make adjustments to make himself a more effective runner. 

He says he wants to play with “more tempo” and reduce the number of cuts he makes in the backfield. 

“I’ve already reached one of my personal goals, and that was to get my first 1,000-yard season,” he said. “For now, the goal is to improve my skills.”

Als running back William Stanback is listed as out for Saturday’s game with an illness. Stanback has 752 yards in 13 games this season.

The Elks have promoted wide receiver Deontez Alexander to the game-day roster. Alexander, who previously was in camps with the NFL's Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, also spent time in the USFL with the Houston Gamblers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2023.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press