Historically good Argonauts fall flat as Montreal Alouettes win CFL East final

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TORONTO — Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Kabion Ento returned interceptions for touchdowns as the Montreal Alouettes stunned the Toronto Argonauts 38-17 in the CFL East Division final Saturday.

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Montreal’s stellar defence forced nine turnovers — resulting in 21 points. That included four interceptions of Toronto’s Chad Kelly, who was making his first career playoff start and was also stopped twice in short-yardage situations and lost a fumble.

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Toronto turned the ball over on downs four times.

Kelly, the East Division’s outstanding player nominee was intercepted three times in the third, the last Ento returned 22 yards for the TD at 9:13 to put Montreal ahead 24-3.

Later in the quarter, the BMO Field gathering of 26,620 — the largest crowd for an Argos game since they moved there in 2016 _ booed the offence off the field.

Dequoy had a 101-yard TD return in the first quarter. Montreal advanced to its first Grey Cup since winning two straight titles (2009-10) and will face either the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or B.C. Lions next weekend at Tim Hortons Field.

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Cameron Dukes’ one-yard TD run at 4:43 of the fourth pulled Toronto to within 24-10. But James Letcher Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for the touchdown — his third return score this season — at 5:19.

Kelly, the East Division’s outstanding player nominee, then found DaVaris Daniels on a 64-yard TD strike at 6:43. That cut Montreal’s lead to 31-17.

It was the second straight stellar performance by Montreal’s defence, which didn’t allow a touchdown in last weekend’s 27-12 East Division semifinal win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Alouettes were 0-3 against Toronto in the regular season tbut haven’t lost since 23-20 setback to the Argos on Sept. 15, a span now of seven games.

Kelly enjoyed a record-setting ’23 campaign, his first as Toronto’s starter. He won 15-of-16 starts in guiding the Argos to a franchise-best 16-2 record, which also tied the single-season league mark for wins.

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In August, Kelly signed a three-year, $1.865-million extension that made him the league’s highest-paid player.

Edmonton was 16-2 in 1989 but lost the West Division final to Saskatchewan, which went to win the Grey Cup.

Kelly’s 93.8 win percentage was the best ever by a player with at least 14 starts. Kelly completed 270-of-394 passes (68.5 per cent) for 4,123 yards with 23 TDs and 12 interceptions while running for 248 yards and eight TDs — tied for second-most in the CFL.

Toronto’s offence also led the CFL in fewest turnovers (27) and was tied for fewest interceptions (15). The Argos entered Saturday’s game sporting a 9-0 home record (one win came in Halifax) and 10-0 within the East Division.

Tyler Snead and Jeshrun Antwi had Montreal’s other touchdowns. David Cote added five converts and a field goal.

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Toronto’s Boris Bede booted two converts and a field goal.

Cody Fajardo’s eight-yard TD pass to Snead at 5:13 of the third _ despite tight coverage from Toronto safety Royce Metchie — staked Montreal to a 17-3 advantage. It followed Shawn Oakman’s unnecessary roughness penalty on a Cote field goal that gave the Als first down at the Toronto seven-yard line.

The touchdown was set up by Reggie Stubblefield’s interception.

Montreal led 10-3 at the half, thanks to a defence that accounted for its lone TD. The unit also stopped Kelly twice on third down despite Dukes usually being Toronto’s short-yardage quarterback.

And although Toronto continually enjoyed great field position and accumulated 174 net yards, the offence gave the ball away four times (downs twice, interception and fumble).

The Argonauts defence did its part with five first-half sacks (three by Oakman, two by Reggie Barlow) and an interception.

Toronto’s offence began smartly, driving to the Montreal seven-yard line. But Dequoy returned Kelly’s pass for Tommy Nield 101 yards at 3:03 of the first.

Bede’s 45-yard field goal at 6:26 of the second cut Montreal’s lead to 7-3. But Cote’s 46-yard boot at 9:08 move the Alouettes ahead 10-3.

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