Chad Owens and the Toronto Argonauts return to Percival Molson Stadium on Sunday to face the host Montreal Alouettes with first place in the East Division on the line.
In the first match-up between these rivals in Week 5, Owens, a leading candidate for the Most Outstanding Player award, picked up 97 yards and two touchdowns against his former team.
However, despite the Flying Hawaiian’s big performance, it was a missed field goal in the dying seconds by Alouettes kicker Sean Whyte that sealed the 23-20 victory for Toronto.
This time, Montreal enters the game without its leading runner and last year’s rushing champion Brandon Whitaker, who tore his ACL in last week’s game versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders and requires season-ending surgery on his right knee.
Taking his place will be backup running back Victor Anderson, who has only 30 carries and 130 yards so far this season as a rookie.
This is a tough blow for Montreal and its effects are two-fold.
Not only does it diminish the Alouettes running game but it also inhibits their ability to spread out the field for those long passes that Anthony Calvillo likes so much.
Whitaker’s ability to run the ball effectively is a prime reason for S.J. Green’s league-leading 12 catches for 30 or more yards.
Not to say that Anderson is an incapable backup, but the loss of a rusher of the calibre of Whitaker is devastating to any team.
Luckily, Montreal is coming off a 28-17 victory over the Roughriders while Toronto lost 28-23 to the BC Lions, putting the Als two points ahead.
However, the Alouettes are just two weeks removed from their worst loss of the season when they were demolished by the same Lions 43-10.
Penalties killing Toronto
The biggest issue for the Argos in the loss last week to BC was penalties. Toronto was tagged for 13 flags for 124 yards.
Head coach Scott Milanovich was particularly vocal about the penalties on Wednesday.
He told the Canadian Press that “one play never makes a difference but you could look at a number of those penalties and say, ‘If we hadn’t had this one we would’ve scored a touchdown. If we wouldn’t have done this one they wouldn’t have scored.’ ”
On the same day, Jordan Younger and his teammates called a players-only meeting to help address the issue of penalties that has plagued the Argos all season. Toronto leads the league in penalties with 124 for 1,147 yards.
Whether the Argos can curtail their penalty trouble or whether Montreal can stem the loss of their big running back may well be deciding factors in this week’s game.
Of course however, veteran quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Cavillo will certainly have their impact on the game before it’s all said and done.
The two QB’s are separated by only 55 passing yards on the season and it was Cavillo’s interception in the Argos end zone late in the second quarter in their first match up that ultimately decided the fate of the Als.
This game will feature the return of Argos coach Scott Milanovich to Montreal for only the second time to face his former colleague Jim Popp.
With a win the Argos will surpass all of their victories from last season with six games still to play and it would be the first time since 2007 that Toronto was in first place in their division this late.
The game is schedule for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff time in Montreal on Sunday.