Alouettes wince at thought of playing Lions

Despite the dominance of their 15-3 record, save nothing of the fact no crossover team has ever won a division final, Montreal is wary of B.C.

Sean Gordon
MONTREAL — From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Published on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009 10:12PM EST
As a breed, pro football scouts are clever people, so when the Alouettes’ staffers who reconnoitered last weekend’s Eastern semi-final were spied cheering openly for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the implication was unmistakable.

Yes, the Als finished the regular season 15-3. Yes, they bestrode the CFL in 2009, and yes, they beat the B.C. Lions this year.

But the plain fact is the Leos, who triumphed in Hamilton to earn a berth in Sunday’s East Division final, are Montreal’s bugaboo.

“We’re very familiar with each other, to say the least,? said Alouettes centre Bryan Chiu, a native of Vancouver. “It’s one of those quirky things in the CFL. For whatever reason, we play tight games against them.?

Twice this decade the Vancouverites have beaten Montreal in the Grey Cup, and the Als haven’t won a game on the left coast in nine long years.

Earlier this season Montreal was denied a tying touchdown at B.C. Place because of a bizarre officiating blunder; it’s the sort of thing that could happen only to the Als in the Pacific time zone.

“When we head west over to them, there’s like a dark cloud that follows us over there, and when we play at home, for some reason the sun comes out,? said defensive end Anwar Stewart, one of nine Alouettes to be named to the all-CFL team yesterday. “It’s not one thing. I think one of the good things about it is that we’re very similar in our athleticism, we match up very well. I think that’s why most of our matches go all the way to the end. It’s exciting … two teams like ourselves, it’s going to be a really good game.?

It’s expected more than 50,000 fans will turn up at Olympic Stadium this weekend to bear witness, a fact the Als view as a key advantage.

There are other factors to make the Alouettes feel more secure: They are undefeated on home turf in 2009, and no crossover team has ever won a division final game.

The Als are also as healthy as they’ve been since the season opened, and should have defensive stalwarts Eric Wilson and Diamond Ferri back in the lineup.

And yet, nothing can be taken for granted when B.C. is the opponent.

Since Marc Trestman’s appointment as head coach, the Als have won 27 and lost 11, but have split their four games with the Lions; each team has scored a total of 104 points in those contests.

“The matchups are very, very tough from our offensive side,? Trestman said. “We’re playing against a defensive line that’s the number one sack team in the league, they got a lot of hits on [all-star quarterback Anthony Calvillo] in both games [this season], so we have to do a better job with our protection. I think a lot of this is going to be how the line of scrimmage is defined on both sides of the ball.?

The matchup argument is hard to argue with, but there are surely other elements at play in the recent past: wily Lions coach Wally Buono (a former Alouette), a defence with a knack for making big plays, streaky quarterbacks, a power running game.

So in a rivalry that seems to feature endless intangibles, here’s one that may work in favour of the home side: Calvillo’s new diet.

In the off-season, the 37-year-old pivot overhauled his eating habits, which he said yesterday has helped his game, but not in ways that would seem immediately obvious.

You see, Calvillo has long had difficulty keeping food down on game days.

“Before, it was really a struggle,? he said. “I think it was more of a mental thing for me, just putting stuff down. I would eat a bowl of cereal and maybe a sandwich and that’s all I would eat during the day. Now, based on all my training with my guys in the off-season, it’s pretty much sweet potatoes, quinoa, a salad with extra oil to make me feel a bit full.

“As you get older, you have to find some new tricks,? Calvillo added. “It really helped me out, when you have the fuel to go out there and be mentally strong for the whole entire time, you’re going to cut down on your mental mistakes.?

Sounds like something for the Lions to chew on.

With a report from David Naylor

yeah well Calvillo will have all year to think about his tricks soon enough