CFL Eastern powers set to collide at BMO Field

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They haven’t surpassed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as Toronto’s chief nemesis but Wynton McManis sees a healthy rivalry developing between the Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes.

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Toronto (2-0) hosts Montreal (3-0) at BMO Field on Friday night with both teams riding lengthy win streaks. The Argos are chasing their 12th consecutive home victory while the Alouettes have won 11 straight games dating back to last year.

“It’s the two best teams in the East going at it,” the Argos linebacker said Thursday following his club’s walk-through. “They’re very confident right now, you can tell by how physical they’re playing and how they’re flying around, especially on defence.

“We’re a confident team as well, we haven’t lost a game either. We have a chip on our shoulder, they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and it’s going to be a fun one.”

Toronto has finished atop the East Division the past three seasons with Montreal ending up second the last two.

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The two teams met in the last two conference finals. The Argos won the first, 34-24, en route to the 2022 Grey Cup title. Last season, the Alouettes upset the Double Blue, who had posted a 16-2 record, 38-17 before downing Winnipeg for their first CFL title since 2010.

Montreal’s last loss was a 23-20 decision to Toronto on Sept. 15.

Montreal rolled up 486 offensive yards in its 47-21 home win over the Ottawa Redblacks last week. Following the unveiling of the club’s Grey Cup banner, Cody Fajardo completed 28-of-35 passes for 393 yards and three TDs while rushing five times for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Canadians Tyson Philpott (eight catches, 150 yards, TD) and Kaion Julien-Grant (eight receptions, 116 yards) were Fajardo’s two favourite targets. Reggie White Jr. had two touchdown grabs.

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“You’ve got to keep Cody honest,” McManis said. “So you have to prepare for him to run and you also have to prepare for their receivers … they’re catching the ball well and making plays for their quarterback.

“For us as a defence, it’s about keeping Cody in the pocket and causing turnovers. You want to get pressure on him, show him different looks and make him uncomfortable back there. He’s a tough quarterback but you want to get as many hits on him as you can to make it tough on him.”

Fajardo (70.616 per cent) has also overtaken Saskatchewan’s Trevor Harris (70.613 per cent) as the CFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage, based upon a minimum of 1,500 attempts. Fajardo, 32, in his eighth season, has completed 1,329-of-1,882 passes.

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A big part of Toronto’s offensive success has been its rushing attack. The Argos boast the CFL’s top ground game (averaging 153 yards) and ran for 186 yards and three TDs in last week’s 39-36 home win over Edmonton.

Ka’Deem Carey led the way with 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Montreal linebacker Tyrice Beverette, who’s tied for fourth overall in defensive tackles (17), said the Alouettes will be confident with whatever gameplan defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe devises.

“Coach Thorpe dials up a great gameplan every time, it doesn’t matter if it’s for the run or pass,” he said. “Whatever a team comes out and does, I think we prepare well for it and we’re always ready for what attack they try to give.

“But at the end of the day we focus on ourselves and on the game we play.”

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Montreal counters with a defence that’s tops in the CFL in fewest offensive points (15 per game), yards (319.7 per game), offensive TDs (four) and passing touchdowns allowed (one). And while the Alouettes are fourth against the run, they’re allowing just 73.3 yards per contest.

“They’re a physical front,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of Montreal’s defence. “They’re stopping the run and doing it with (a) light box so now they’re playing coverage and a lot more zone.

“We’ve got to find ways to run the ball, we’ve got to establish the run.”

The good news for Toronto is veteran receiver DaVaris Daniels (groin) returns after missing last week’s game. But receiver Dejon Brissett (knee) and offensive lineman Darius Ciraco (hip), both Canadians, went on the six-game injured list this week.

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Toronto starter Cameron Dukes was 18-of-21 passing for 214 yards and two TDs while rushing for another as well as a two-point convert versus Edmonton. Overall, Dukes has completed 39-of-48 passes (81.3 per cent) for 468 yards with five TDs and no interceptions.

On Friday night, Toronto will recognize former coach/executive Lew Hayman, Canadian linebacker/broadcaster Peter Martin and head coach/GM Bob O’Billovich as all-time Argo builders and former quarterback Ricky Ray as an all-time Argo.

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