February 21, 2022

Montreal Alouettes linebacker Patrick Levels standing by his CFL playoff guarantee

Patrick Levels wasn’t backing down Saturday.

The Montreal Alouettes linebacker guaranteed Monday his team would beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division final. Five days later, he wasn’t changing his tune.

“That’s not going to change,” Levels told reporters Saturday. “Anything less than winning this game right now is a failure to the season.

“My mentality is that it’s all or nothing. I’m putting all my chips on the table right now because I don’t have anything guaranteed.”

Levels’ guarantee made headlines across the CFL even though every pro athlete fully expects to win every game they participate in. Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence, one the league’s best trash talkers, chuckled when told of Levels’ comments.

“I’ll be honest, it makes me laugh,” Lawrence said. “We’re all grown men, some people might not like what he said, but we’re all grown men and we’re going to get the chance to prove whatever on Sunday.

“It’s one of those things where you gotta show it.”

Levels was surprised at the controversy his comments generated.

“Yeah, it was kind of mind-blowing,” he said. “But then I also understand everybody can’t put that pressure on themselves, if that’s what you want to call it.

“Pressure busts pipes, not people so I don’t see the pressure, I don’t feel the pressure. This is what I do, I’ve been playing this game since I was three years old.”

Levels said a big reason for his confidence is just how prepared he and the Alouettes are for Sunday’s game.

“As a kid you just went out there and played the game and you didn’t know what was going to happen,” Levels said. “I have expectations now, I know what I’m going to do.

“I am prepared, my teammates are prepared. Our coaches have prepared us so to say anything besides we’re going to win would be a slap in the face to all the preparation that my coaches have put in.”

And there’s no doubt in Levels’ mind that Hamilton players don’t feel the exact same way he does.

“What I said was no disrespect to any one of those guys,” Levels said. “I know they think they’re going to win the game and nobody is saying anything about that.

“They get to laugh and joke and think what I said is funny. OK, happy teams get their butts whupped. I’m not happy. We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve made the playoffs (at) 7-7. OK, now I’ve got a fresh start. (In the) playoffs you get baptized, my sins have been washed, now it’s time to go.”

The five-foot-11, 187-pound Levels is completing his fourth CFL season and second with Montreal. The 27-year-old Dallas native had 42 tackles, three sacks and an interception this season.

Levels, who played collegiately at Baylor, began his CFL career in 2017 with the Calgary Stampeders. He and Hamilton running back Don Jackson were teammates in Alberta in 2018 but will be rivals Sunday as Jackson gets the start for the Ticats.

Levels left little doubt that the two will be on a collision course Sunday.

“I love him to death,” Levels said. “Don Jackson is a great running back, a physical running back.

“I’ve seen him at practice, he runs every play through the goal-line, that’s the type of running back he is. I’m the same guy on defence. I’m running to every ball, I’m running to every play. I’m 110 per cent every time so it’s me versus you and when it comes down to that, I’m always picking me.”

LEWIS AMONG STARTERS FOR SEMIFINAL

Khari Jones will one of his top playmakers on the field Sunday for the East Division final.

The Montreal head coach was emphatic Saturday receiver Eugene Lewis will play when the Alouettes face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field. Lewis didn’t practise Thursday due to a hip injury and was limited Friday.

Lewis was Montreal’s top receiver this season with 62 catches for 964 yards and nine touchdowns.

“He’s playing,” Jones said. “I don’t know if anyone is 100 per cent right now but the plan is for him to play.

“I’ve been assured he’ll be ready to go.”

That was hardly news to Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer, who said earlier his team prepared all week expecting Lewis to play.

“We’re preparing for what we’ve seen on tape and that’s their best players, their best foot forward,” Steinauer said. “Obviously we respect our opponents, we put together gameplans to beat each opponent.

“But the majority of our focus continues to be on ourselves. Whoever shows up, we’re going to play against.”

Montreal’s offence led the CFL in net yards (371.8 per game) and time of possession (33 minutes, 19 seconds) and was second in offensive points (22.7) and offensive TDs (31). It also averaged a league-best 144.5 rushing yards, anchored by William Stanback, the East Division’s outstanding player who ran for a league-leading 1,176 yards.

“I think it will be pretty important for us to establish our run game,” Jones said. It’s a big part of what we do but we also feel good about how we’ve been throwing the ball as well.

“Whatever we need to do we feel like we’ll be ready to do it.”

Hamilton’s defence allowed a league-low 79.6 rushing yards per game and just 16.1 offensive points (second behind Winnipeg at 12.9). The Ticats were also tied with the Bombers in turnovers forced (20) while registering a CFL-best nine interceptions.

Hamilton and Montreal split the season series 1-1. The Ticats won 27-10 at Molson Stadium on Aug. 27 before the Alouettes erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit en route to a 23-20 overtime decision Oct. 2.

That win halted Hamilton’s 11-game home win streak. The Ticats finished 5-2 at Tim Hortons Field and 4-4 within the East Division.

Stanback ran for 99 yards on 24 carries (4.1-yard average) in the two regular-season matchups.

“He’s a great back, he’s a key to the offence,” Hamilton defensive tackle Ted Laurent said of Stanback. “However he goes, that’s how they go.

“We’ve been prepping that all week . . . we’ve just got to control the run game and try to make him one-dimensional.”

Hamilton faces Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris for the first time this season. Veteran Vernon Adams Jr. started both regular-season games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that resulted in the Alouettes acquiring Harris from Edmonton.

“He’s a champion, he understands where to go with the football,” Steinauer said of Harris. “The difference would be, obviously, in athletic ability.

“I don’t see the offence changing a ton, Khari kind of does what he does. I’ll tell you this, one thing I’ve learned about playoff football, it’s the game within the game. You can have your plan and if you want to stick to it, it better be damn good but you better be able to adjust.”

Montreal was 4-3 on the road this year and 5-3 within the East Division. Its defence led the CFL in sacks (49)

Hamilton also has some health issues as defensive back Ciante Evans (thigh) will be a game-time decision. Canadian centre Darius Ciraco (back) will start Sunday but receiver Bralon Addison won’t play.

Addison came off the six-game injured list earlier this week and resumed practising. He has 18 catches for 231 yards in three contests this year after registering 95 receptions for 1,236 yards and seven TDs in 2019.

Don Jackson will start at running back, only his fifth appearance this season. While Jackson was hurt part of the year, he also spent about five weeks as a healthy scratch.

“What I’ve been through is just simply what people go through in life,” Jackson said. “Ups and down, valleys and peaks.

“Sometimes things aren’t going to go in your favour, sometimes things will. Everybody has their times of ups and downs, I’m trying to find the best way not react to it but respond to it.”

Jackson has run for 245 yards on 44 carries (5.6-yard average) with a touchdown. He’s also recorded eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

The five-foot-10, 205-pound Jackson rushed for 924 yards (5.8-yard average) with three TDs in 13 games with Calgary in 2018. But the following year he ran for 246 yards on 58 carries (4.2-yard average) and two TDs over seven games with the Stampeders.

“He’s just dynamic,” Steinauer said. “There could be something there and he’ll find a way to get seven, there could be plays where there’s seven but he finds a way to get 25.

“And what I love about Don is I haven’t had to motivate him one time. When you have a team of self-starters who are competitive at the core, I think it’s special and it’s rare.”

Jackson only ran for 34 yards on 12 carries in last week’s 24-3 home win over Saskatchewan. But Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli said those numbers don’t tell the whole story about Jackson’s contribution.

“We had a couple of second-and-three, second-and-four where got hit at the line of scrimmage and was able to keep his feet going and fall forward for the first down,” Masoli said. “Stuff like that is priceless to be able to keep the drives going and move the chains.

“On top of that, he’s an explosive guy. At any point there could be an explosive play.”

— This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2021.

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