Patrick Watkins' end-zone INT against Jamel Richardson was one of many great defensive plays Friday.The Toronto Argonauts' and Montreal Alouettes' struggles heading into Friday night's CFL action largely hadn't been about their star quarterbacks, but neither Ricky Ray nor Anthony Calvillo really shone in Montreal. Instead, this night was about the defences, and that's particularly surprising considering that the Alouettes' defence might have been their most troubling unit heading into this one, allowing a league-worst average of 34.8 points per game. Toronto's defence wasn't a lot better before Friday's contest either, allowing an average of 28.3 points per game. This clash of high-powered quarterbacks turned into a defensive struggle, though, and the Argonauts' defence had just enough extra to come away with a 23-20 victory.
What was particularly notable in Friday's game was that even the points that were scored didn't come easily. Ray threw two touchdown passes to Chad Owens, who had an outstanding night with seven catches for 97 yards, but apart from those, the Argonauts were held to three Swayze Waters field goals (on four attempts). Meanwhile, Calvillo was only able to record one touchdown, and the rest of the Alouettes' scoring came from four Sean Whyte field goals (on five attempts). For two defences that hadn't particularly distinguished themselves to date, that's an impressive showing.
It's not that either offence was terrible, either. Both Calvillo and Ray proved able to move the ball through the air at times, throwing for 317 and 280 yards respectively (with 59.5 and 66.7 per cent completion percentages), and although Montreal held Toronto running back Cory Boyd relatively in check (he only picked up 51 yards on 14 carries, a measly average of 3.6 yards per attempt), the Argonauts couldn't consistently stop the Alouettes' Brandon Whitaker, who picked up 82 yards on 15 attempts (5.5 yards per carry). Instead, this was more about the defences stepping up at the right times, coming up with interceptions (such as Toronto's Patrick Watkins' end-zone grab against Jamel Richardson pictured above), forced fumbles and swatted passes that forced the offences to settle for field goals. This wasn't a contest of offensive missteps, but rather one of defensive execution.
In the end, this is a significant victory for Toronto. A road win over Montreal is always impressive, and this moves the Argonauts up to 3-2. Chris Jones' defensive unit held the Alouettes' high-powered attack to 20 points, too, and Toronto's late-game performance was also notable, as this team's found ways to lose close contests in the past. Still, there are positive signs here for Montreal too, and the biggest one may be that Jeff Reinebold's defence finally lived up to its potential; allowing 23 points is very acceptable, even in a loss, and it's almost 12 points better than their average to date.
The Montreal offence was only really off on a few matters of red-zone execution Friday, and some of that can be chalked up to a solid defensive performance by Toronto. Even if that wasn't the case, though, there was always room for belief in the likes of Calvillo, Whitaker and Jamel Richardson. The Alouettes' defence was more questionable heading into this, though, and although it wasn't quite as impressive as the Argonauts' defensive effort, it still did more than enough to give the team hope going forward. Toronto may have picked up the win here, but both teams left Friday night's clash feeling good about their defence, and that's much more than you could have said going into it.