MONTREAL — So much for Trevor Harris being rusty.
Harris threw for 421 yards and a TD as the Edmonton Eskimos held on for an entertaining 37-29 East Division semifinal win over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday afternoon.
Harris, appearing in just his second game since Sept. 7, was sharp right from the start, completing his first 22 passes — one short of the CFL record held by Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli. He finished 36-of-39 passing (92.3 per cent) with an interception and said he wasn’t the least bit concerned about being rusty.
"I’m an eight-year veteran, man, I don’t think so," he said. " think that’s more for you all (media) to kind of make a storyline, ‘Is he going to be rusty? We’ll see.’
"Any time you play for (Eskimos head coach) Jason Maas you’re going to have capability of having big games like that. He’s a mastermind in terms of things he does."
In last year’s East Division final, Harris had a league-record six TD strikes in the Ottawa Redblacks’ 46-27 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Harris threw for 447 yards and three TDs in his Edmonton debut, a 32-25 season-opening home victory over Montreal.
But Harris’s interception to Woody Baron at the Edmonton 48 gave Montreal much-needed life. Vernon Adams Jr.’s 10-yard run at 6:29 pulled the Alouettes to within 34-29, delighting the energetic Molson Stadium gathering of 21,054 on a cool, overcast and windy afternoon.
Montreal had made a habit of rallying for wins during the regular season. The Alouettes came back to win seven of their 10 victories this year.
Adams Jr. had Montreal on the move with under two minutes remaining but was picked off by Edmonton’s Josh Johnson. That set up Sean Whyte’s 37-yard field goal at 13:58 to put the Eskimos up 37-29.
Montreal had one last chance for the comeback at its 34-yard line but Johnson registered his third interception of the game with 43 seconds remaining.
"You have a quarterback like Trevor Harris over there and he’s doing his thing, that’s tough," said Adams. "But when we’re on the field we have to be on point.
"We had opportunities out there … just got to be better with the ball."
Among those in attendance reportedly were officials with Claridge Investment Ltd., a Montreal firm that’s been said to be in partnership with brothers Jeffrey and Peter Lenkov to purchase the Alouettes. The franchise has been operated by the CFL this season.
And Peter Lenkov was tweeting about the contest throughout it.
Edmonton will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (CFL-best 15-3 record) in the East final next Sunday. The Ticats were a perfect 9-0 this season at Tim Hortons Field.
"Trevor Harris played a very good game and we didn’t, especially in the first half," said Montreal first-year head coach Khari Jones. "I just go to the way this team battled back.
"This team fights, this team just wouldn’t give up and that’s what I’m really proud of with this group. I think a lot of teams might’ve thrown in the towel but I didn’t worry about that with this group."
The loss was a bitter ending for the upstart Alouettes, who reached the playoffs for the first time in five years — ending a franchise-worst drought. Their 10-win regular season was the franchise’s first since 2012.
What’s more, Montreal suffered its first loss to a crossover team in six all-time games. Adams Jr. was 14-of-27 passing for 226 yards and three interceptions.
"Khari Jones has those guys playing hard for each other and for him," Harris said. "It’s just great to see Montreal be back (to) what they’ve been in the past.
"It’s been great for the league."
And Adams Jr. said Montreal’s top priority must be re-signing Jones.
"Winning is going to sell tickets," he said. "We won this year, Khari knows how to win.
"He’s the guy, we’ve got to bring him back. If we want to keep winning, that’s the guy."
C.J. Gable, with two, and Darren McCarty had Edmonton’s touchdowns. Whyte added three converts and five field goals while Hugh O’Neill booted a single.
William Stanback, with two, and Mario Alford scored Montreal’s other touchdowns. Boris Bede kicked two converts and a field goal.
Edmonton used a methodical offensive approach for a 25-19 half-time lead, holding the ball for 21 minutes while mounting touchdown drives of 88, 80 and 83 yards. Harris was a stellar 23-of-24 passing for 257 yards and a TD as the Eskimos rolled up 306 yards offensively.
Harris’s pinpoint passing accuracy and offensive leadership was reminiscent of the days when the recently retired Ricky Ray was under centre for the Eskimos. Maas, a former teammate of Ray’s said the two quarterbacks are very much alike.
"They’re both very similar in the way they approach the game, their style of playing," Maas said. "They’re a pocket passer who can throw it where they need to put it, they’re accurate in every throw they make.
"But their reading (of defences) and brain are what makes them who they are."
Moments after Harris’s lone incompletion of the half, Whyte hit a 43-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to give Edmonton it’s six-point advantage.
Edmonton is attempting to do something no other CFL team has done, and that’s win the Grey Cup as a crossover squad. The Eskimos had adopted the slogan, ‘Why not us,’ which they featured on T-shirts.
"Why not us? Is there a reason? I don’t think so," Harris said. "I think we have a team that’s good enough to do whatever we set our minds to.
"Obviously it’s going to be no easy task. Coming into Montreal, which is a difficult place to play, and then going to the Hammer, where nobody in the league has won this year. But that’s not going to stop us from putting our best foot forward and doing everything we can."