By Herb Zurkowsky
WINNIPEG — The Montreal Alouettes haven’t done anything easily this season, so why should it be any different now?
The two-time defending Grey Cup champions squandered an opportunity to clinch first place in the East Division, losing 26-25 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon before a capacity crowd of 30,360 spectators at Canad Inns Stadium.
It was Montreal’s first loss in five games and leaves the teams tied for first in the division, both with 10-6 records. The Bombers have won two of three games between the teams, giving them the tiebreaker should they end the schedule with the same amount of points.
Both teams have two games remaining — Winnipeg hosts Toronto next week and travels to Calgary to close the season; Montreal is home to Calgary next week and visits B.C. to finish the regular season.
This was a game dictated by field position, due to a strong wind that always seems to be prevalent in this city and facility.
Neither team used the wind to their advantage in a sluggish opening half. Although the Als outscored Winnipeg 16-0 with the wind in the third quarter, taking a 25-10 lead into the final period, the advantage wasn’t enough.
Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo, uncharacteristically, was intercepted three times by the Bombers. He had entered the game with a league-low five interceptions against him. It marked the first time since September 2008, against Calgary, the 39-year-old veteran has been pilfered three times in a game. Calvillo also was sacked five times.
The Bombers started their fourth-quarter comeback with a 15-yard field goal by Justin Palardy at 2:30. Although Palardy would later miss a 27-yard attempt that struck the upright, Winnipeg drew closer on a two-yard touchdown run by Chris Garrett at 8:21 following an interception by Jonathan Hefney.
Down five points and scrimmaging from the Montreal 30 with 1:22 remaining, Garrett eventually scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard run at 14:12. The Bombers’ two-point convert attempt was unsuccessful.
The Alouettes, meanwhile, produced only one touchdown in the game, Brandon Whitaker scoring on a four-yard run at 9:44 of the third quarter following an interception by Paul Woldu. Sean Whyte established a career high, kicking six field goals for Montreal — from 37, 34, 26, 36, 12 and 29 yards.
Winnipeg blew a golden opportunity for a field goal at the end of the first half. Scrimmaging from the Montreal 28 with eight seconds remaining, the Bombers attempted to run a play rather than kicking a field goal. Quarterback Buck Pierce ran for seven yards, the time expiring in the process.
The Bombers opened the scoring following an interception by Jovon Johnson. Pierce passed seven yards to Greg Carr at 4:24 for the major.
Palardy added a single off a wide 32-yard field goal attempt at 7:59 of the opening period after Calvillo threw his second interception.
Jamie Boreham added a pair of punt singles for the Bombers.