Sunday, November 29, 2009
One play. One mistake. That's all it came down to in one of the craziest endings to a football game I've ever seen. After Saskatchewan got stopped deep in their own end and punted, they still seemed to have a great chance to hang on and win. In fact, disaster almost struck for Montreal on the punt itself when Brian Bratton bobbled and then fumbled it, but Etienne Boulay saved the day, diving on the ball. Still, Montreal only had 40 seconds to work with, no timeouts and a starting position on their own 34. There were a few mishaps, but Anthony Calvillo completed two long passes and Montreal was in position to kick the winning field goal, but it was from long range and kicker Damon Duval had struggled all game. The ball was snapped, the hold was good, but Duval drove it well right of the uprights. Jason Armstead ran it out and took a knee, and it looked like the Riders had won.
Not so fast. In a moment reminiscent of the legendary call that ended Don Cherry's coaching career with the Bruins, a flag flew. Saskatchewan was called for too many men on the field, the ball was moved 10 yards closer, and Duval got another chance. He made no mistake this time,giving Montreal a 28-27 victory.
This fits right in with the column I wrote earlier this year about the overemphasis we frequently place on quarterbacks. Both Calvillo and Darian Durant had reasonably good days after slow starts, but neither was the decisive factor. If Boulay hadn't had the presence of mind to dive on that fumble, Calvillo wouldn't have even had a chance to lead that final drive, and if Saskatchewan hadn't had too many men on the field, the drive wouldn't have mattered.
Still, you can bet there will be plenty of stories about Calvillo's veteran leadership, even though he wasn't on the field for the sole play that turned a loss into a win. In fact, the Alouettes didn't even really win, as the best efforts of their players resulted in a loss. It was Saskatchewan's critical error that made the difference. That doesn't mean the rest of the game gets ignored, but it needs to be kept in perspective. The Alouettes played a great game and made a great comeback, but it was a penalty that turned a loss into a win.