TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts' offensive line made life easy for A.J. Ouellette on Saturday afternoon.
Ouellette ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns as Toronto clinched a CFL playoff spot with a 39-10 home win over the Montreal Alouettes. Not only did the Argos' offensive front create running lanes for Ouellette, it also went a fifth straight game without allowing a sack. The unit has surrendered just 10 all season.
"They're the best in the league and they don't get enough praise," Ouellette said. "I want to make sure that's the headline in the next paper that comes out: Our front five is the best in the league.
"It was easy running out there. It was a two-way go every time I got the ball. Pick left or right, it didn't matter."
Toronto (10-1) earned a fourth straight victory and cemented the season series with Montreal (6-6). The two teams meet Friday at Molson Stadium.
"I just knew this was the one we had to have," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. "If we lose this one, then we've got to go to their place and if we lose both games they've got the tiebreaker on us.
"Then it's a different story."
Toronto also tied the 1996 squad for best start in club history. It did so just five days after a road victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the Argos had just three practices — including two walk-throughs — to prepare for Montreal.
"It just shows how much we've matured as a football club that we don't have to get on the grass," Dinwiddie said. "Guys understand walk-through reps are just as important.
"We told them we had to be mentally tough this week and when you're mentally tough, being physically tough comes with it. It was a tough week and we found a way to overcome it."
Ouellette cemented the win with a two-yard TD run at 2:36 of the fourth quarter, putting Toronto ahead 36-10. The Argos improved to 6-0 within the East Division and 6-0 at home (although one win came in Halifax).
Montreal has dropped three straight and now must be concerned with third-place Hamilton (5-7).The Alouettes played most of the contest without Austin Mack — the CFL's leading receiver with 60 catches for 971 yards and four TDs — after he was ejected in the first quarter.
"It was big," Montreal quarterback Cody Fajardo said of Mack's departure. "Not many people think about it, but when you start shuffling receivers, guys have to play positions they're not used to playing.
"As a quarterback you have a repertoire or relationship with a guy at a certain position that runs certain routes and so it changes up the whole offence, it changes up our whole dynamic. Austin is leading the league in receiving yards so obviously he's one of the top receivers in the league ... we're a much better football team with him on the football field than in the locker room."
Toronto earned its fifth win in seven meetings with Montreal to the delight of a BMO Field gathering of14,415.
Toronto's offence rolled up 411 total yards, including 135 on the ground. Starter Chad Kelly was 21-of-28 passing for 278 yards and also ran twice for six yards and a TD.
Dinwiddie felt Saturday's performance was his offensive line's best this season. But he also praised Ouellette and Toronto's running backs.
"The O-line played great, I'm so proud of those guys," he said. "If you looked at it, there was always one guy unblocked and A.J. made him miss, and he does that consistently for us.
"So does Andrew (Harris), so does Daniel (Adeboboye) and so does Javon (Leake). I feel really good about everybody in our locker room who plays well for us and sacrifices for the team."
Fajardo completed 21-of-24 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown and ran twice for five yards before giving way to Caleb Evans late in the fourth. But after running for 196 yards in last week's 34-25 loss to B.C., Montreal had just 24 rushing yards Saturday.
Cameron Dukes had Toronto's other touchdown. Boris Bede added the converts and four field goals.
Cole Spieker scored Montreal's touchdown. David Cote booted the convert and a field goal.
Kelly's five-yard TD run on third-and-three at 8:31 put Toronto ahead 29-10 as the two-point convert was unsuccessful. Cote's 10-yard field goal at 5:29 pulled Montreal to within 23-10.
Bede's 37-yard field goal at 13:43 accounted for all of the scoring in the second quarter and gave Toronto a 23-7 halftime advantage. Montreal did itself no favours with four turnovers (three fumbles, one on downs), five penalties for 51 yards and just five first downs compared to the Argos' 12.
"We never really gave ourselves a chance," Fajardo said. "Our big point of emphasis this week was to end every drive with a kick, but we ended a lot of drives with turnovers.
"It's OK to punt in this league, but to turn the ball over against the best team as many times as we did was unacceptable."
Mack was ejected late in the first following a melee that ensued after an apparent Toronto interception was ruled incomplete. He left without registering a catch.
Bede's 26-yard field goal at 12:12 of the first pushed Toronto's lead to 17-7
Fajardo got Montreal on the board with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Spieker at 8:22. It was set up by Chandler Worthy's 79-yard kickoff return, which didn't go for a TD thanks to a terrific tackle by Bede.
Ouellette's 15-yard TD run at 7:03 staked Toronto to a 14-0 advantage. It came two plays after Jack Cassar's recovery of Worthy's fumble on a kickoff return.
Dukes opened the scoring with a one-yard TD run six minutes in.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect first name for A.J. Ouellette.