Humble pie replaces popcorn

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

TORONTO -- It can never be said the Toronto Argonauts were knocked out of a Grey Cup appearance by a bag of popcorn but one was rather representative of their 33-17 loss to the Montreal Alouettes yesterday.

An incredible six turnovers played the major part in the East Division championship result. A sub-par performance by the Argo passing game was another part of it.

But after bursting to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, perhaps the popcorn incident angered the gods of football propriety and the game turned right around.

That was when Argo receiver Jay Soward snagged a Damon Allen pass in full stride and streaked unmolested 43 yards into the Montreal end zone and past the corporate tents.

When he emerged, he had a bag of popcorn he was offering to teammates.

Bad move.

The arrogance seemed to touch off an immediate shift of the fates and before you knew it, humble pie was on the menu.

A game the Argos appeared to be running away with stopped in its tracks and swung the other way. The Montreal attack began keeping the Argo defence on the field for protracted periods and Argo scoring ceased but for a second-half field goal.

Meantime, after a slow start, Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo began clicking against the defending Grey Cup champs.

The Argos' inability to score when they had the opportunity in the early going, along with the giveaways, pretty well teed the result up for a Montreal machine that meshed quickly when the opportunity arose.

By the time he'd exerted control of proceedings, Calvillo unloaded hard-running Canadian running back Eric Lapointe, who was ripping off big chunks of yardage down to the final whistle.

"I didn't see the popcorn thing," winning coach Don Matthews said. "I'm just glad to be working another week (preparing for next week's Grey Cup final). I was spoiled rotten early, when I got to go to six Grey Cups in a row. I said at the time 'this is life in the fast lane.' People don't realize how hard it really is."

Next Sunday will mark his attempt to win a sixth Grey Cup. He expressed profound relief.

The abrupt end of a football season is "like a kick in the groin" Matthews said and his opposite number, along with Argo quarterback Allen, showed it in their faces. The normally upbeat Pinball Clemons was subdued.

"It was unthinkable," Clemons said. "You don't think that in this sort of game you'd have that many turnovers. We were off after the first quarter and didn't get in the groove again. It was hit and miss after that."

The Toronto defence was hitting, offence was missing.

A Rogers Centre crowd of 44,211, the largest playoff crowd at the former SkyDome since 1991, came expecting Toronto's ageless quarterback to weave his magic. The 42-year-old Allen, whom Clemens insists will be his quarterback next season, spoke of hard losses in his 21-year career and put this one up there.

"We gave them the game," said Allen, who completed 18 of 28 passes, two for interceptions while adding a fumble to Argos' total of four. Calvillo went off with the game ball after completing 19 of 33 passes in directing Montreal's turnover-free resurgence with the lion's share (35-plus minutes) of the ball.

The Montreal victory, after Toronto had taken two of three games across the season, was probably what the Alouettes needed. After experiencing an explosion of fan interest in smallish Percival Molson Stadium, the Alouettes tried a couple of games in the larger Olympic Stadium to tepid crowds.

Toronto, meantime, was left wondering what might have been. As Clemons said afterward, this is the last game many of these players will be together in football's ever-changing landscape.

Matthews was right. Afterward, the Argos all looked as though they'd taken a nasty kick.


Videos

Photos