MONTREAL — Almost on an annual basis, it seems, the Alouettes have advanced to the East Division final — a game that has come down to stopping the best player in the Canadian Football League. That player, generally, has been Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
But when the Als and Toronto Argonauts meet this Sunday at Olympic Stadium, the best player, arguably, will be Chad Owens, the Argos’ talented receiver and kick returner. And if Montreal can neutralize Owens, even modestly, its chances of advancing to the Grey Cup will be greatly enhanced.
“We know the challenges. He’s the No. 1 focus of everything we do in this building in terms of stopping them defensively and on special teams,” said Andy Bischoff, the Als’ special teams coordinator. “We respect Chad and need to stop him.”
Or, as defensive-back Billy Parker put it, quite succinctly, earlier this week: “We have to win the kicking game. This can’t be a draw. We have to win the field-position game.”
Calvillo might outplay Ricky Ray this weekend. And the Als’ inconsistent defence might raise the level of their game. But Owens, the league’s leading receiver this season and the player who produced the most combined yards — almost 1,200 more than British Columbia’s Tim Brown — can change a game’s momentum with one dynamic return.
In last Sunday’s division semifinal against Edmonton, Owens staked Toronto to a 14-7 lead in the second quarter with a 59-yard punt-return touchdown — a play that undoubtedly dramatically changed the game’s flow.
And yet, despite Owens’s success this season, the Als’ beleaguered special teams did a relatively successful job of minimizing the damage he inflicted. In three games against Montreal, Owens returned 15 punts for 157 yards, including a 40 yarder in the teams’ first meeting, last July. He also returned 12 kickoffs for 239 yards.
Perhaps it took his presence to get the Als to competently cover.
“We feel, in spite of the inconsistency, our guys are in a really good place and have a level of confidence they can do a good job in this game,” Bischoff said. “We feel good about how it’s gone (against Owens) as compared to how he has done in some other games.”
As much as the Als must cover and contain Owens, it behooves Montreal punter Sean Whyte to directionally place his kicks properly.
“Special teams are going to be the factor in this game. And shutting down Chad Owens, who usually makes a dynamic play every game,” Whyte said. “I have to place the ball properly.
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