Kicker's trick no treat
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Argonauts' Noel Prefontaine punts on the run after bobbling the snap during Sunday's game at the Rogers Centre. Pre's heads-up play actually resulted in a single point for the Argos. Alouettes' defensive end Ameet Pall gives chase. Unfortunately, Prefontaine's pass attempt on a fake punt later in the game didn't work out quite as well. (Reuters)
With the wrong quarterback, the wrong running back, the wrong starting receiver, the Argos turned to the right punter, the old guy on Sunday afternoon, with the hopes he could make a difference when a difference needed to be made.
They didn’t want Noel Prefontaine to win them the game against what used to be the Montreal Alouettes. But they thought — all week long, in practice, in meetings, that one play, one clever special teams determination — could be the kind of momentum swing that could buy a wounded football team a victory and first place in the East.
They probably made the right call in their fight for first place.
The call was fine, the execution was not. And instead of stunning the Alouettes, they wound up shocking themselves into submission in front of the largest regular season crowd (25,348) of this football season at the Rogers Centre.
Rookie head coach Scott Milanovich stood up and took the hit for the third quarter call to fake a punt, let Prefontaine throw the ball, and try to catch the Alouettes napping in a game they perilously led 9-7. It was his call, he said. He and special teams coach Michael O’Shea had talked a lot in the week leading up to the Alouettes game about how they could find a way to bring special to the special teams. They used to do a lot of this when Cleo Lemon played quarterback, because they had no offence to speak of. And with Jarious Jackson at quarterback, the other Gerald Riggs running the ball, and the previously cut Jason Barnes and Ken-Yon Rambo running patterns, well, that Argos offence isn’t exactly threatening anyone.
Prefontaine knew the play. What he wasn’t sure of was when. For years, he’s had the ability to fake when need be. He’s done this before. He used to play quarterback. And he said he made the call on the field Sunday. His call. He decided it was time. He thought it would work.
“This is a game you don’t play cautiously,” said Prefontaine. “You let loose. Unfortunately, we lost the game with it.”
That was one play. Really, the Argos lost first place and the game to the Alouettes on three plays Sunday. The fake punt that didn’t work. The long touchdown pass to Jamel Richardson, when two Argos somehow missed what used to be the CFL’s best receiver. The inexplicable interception for a touchdown by Canadian Shea Emry, who took his defensive position, had the ball thrown directly to him and ran untouched to the end zone.
But the two touchdown plays were made after the fake punt failed. They were made after the Argos stopped moving the ball. The Argos actually came back for a second or two to make the score 12-10 after giving up three points on the unconverted pass to defensive back Jordan Younger.
Twelve was as many points as the Argos could muster — one touchdown — even with their defence playing well. In the final 18 minutes of the game, the Argos didn’t score. The Alouettes had 14 points.
The air came out of the Argos balloon when the trickery didn’t go their way.
But the feeling was this could have been different with a healthy Ricky Ray and Chad Kackert. The Argos aren’t terrific on offence when their first string is playing. Get down to the second- and third-stringers and this is what you get.
And it hurts, because the Argos realize what the rest of the CFL has come to know. These aren’t the usual Marc Trestman Alouettes. This is a flawed football team. This is a team with an aging quarterback and not much else.
“I’ve played Montreal a lot of years,” said Prefontaine. “I don’t know how many East finals I’ve lost to them, but it’s a lot. In terms of overall team strength, it’s probably one of the weaker ones that I’ve played against.
“And even though Montreal looks like a weaker football team, the bottom line is we lost the opportunity to get in first place in the division. And that hurts.”
All around the Argos dressing room, the refrain was the same post-game. An opportunity lost. First place wasn’t that far away and now even the playoffs are no certainty. It is that close in a watered down CFL. Milanovich calls it parity. A shortage of talent may be a more accurate way of assessing the league.
“You have to try to keep things in perspective,” said Milanovich. “I wanted our goals to be high (this season). We wanted to win the East. Now, we’re a team just trying to make the playoffs ... We need to focus on making the playoffs. We need to get ourselves healthy and get our confidence back.”