According to the official scorebook, James Letcher Jr.’s wild, winding touchdown return went for 125 yards. He thinks he ran a lot more than that.
His scamper with just eight seconds left in the second half was the back-breaker as the Montreal Alouettes came back from a 21-3 deficit to beat the Edmonton Elks 35-21 Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
The Als, who have clinched second place in the CFL’s East Division with a 10-7 record, have now won four in a row.
The Alouettes’ special-teams hero said he was exhausted after taking Dean Faithfull’s missed field-goal attempt from 15 yards deep in his own end zone all the way to pay dirt. His runback saw him go from sideline to sideline.
“It felt like a 200-yard dash,” said Letcher. “It was the longest run I’ve had since I ran track. Once I saw them miss, I was like ‘OK, I got to go, I got to go.’ And one of my teammates pointed, he said ‘hey, go this way, I got my guy, run off of me’ and after that I just saw green.”
Head coach Jason Maas said he knew Letcher was going to score once he’d left 10 Elks in the dust, and only had the kicker and holder to beat on the sideline.
“I know he’s tough to bring down, regardless,” said Als head coach Jason Maas. “He never quits on any play and he can make people miss. Once I’d seen him break in, I looked to see the guys left to beat. At that point, when it’s only the kicker and holder left to bring him down, it’s going to be very difficult to do.”
Letcher was so tired after the touchdown burst, that he didn’t feel like the halftime break was good enough. “I got a break, but it didn’t feel like it was long enough. Halftime felt like it was five minutes. I needed a bit more of the third quarter to get my wind back.”
Letcher Jr.’s scamper punctuated a second-quarter scoring explosion from the Montreal Alouettes. It capped off a 3:21 span in which the Als scored 23 points.
The Elks held a 21-3 lead with less than four minutes left in the first half. Then, the game turned on its ear.
It began when Als quarterback Cody Fajardo found Tyson Philpot for an eight-yard scoring strike.
Then, on the first play of the Elks’ next possession, quarterback Tre Ford’s fumble was scooped up by Als lineman Mustafa Johnson, who rumbled 44 yards to the house.
Deontez Alexander, who was promoted from the Elks’ practice roster for the game, fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to a Jose Maltos field goal.
The Als finished the turnaround with the Letcher touchdown return.
“When you’re down as many points as we were, and then it all comes back in force, it’s pretty awesome,” said Maas. “I’m pretty biased, but I think we’re a very good football team that plays well together. There’s nobody that quits on our side.”
The reviews from Elks general manager and head coach Chris Jones were not nearly as positive.
“It’s the same thing,” said Jones. “Same song, about eighth verse this year. Where you jump out and you play some good football at times, and then you turn around and play a quarter-and-a-half to two quarters of bad football, which results in a loss. So, yeah, I’m pretty frustrated right now.”
The Elks, 4-13, dominated for most of the first half, scoring three touchdowns on their first four drives. Ford completed his first eight passes. And, all of this came against a defence that had surrendered just 29 points over its previous three games.
Kyran Moore caught screen passes that went for touchdowns of 13 and 18 yards, respectively. Taylor Cornelius, the Elks’ designated short-yardage quarterback, scampered for a six-yard touchdown on a second-and-one play.
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But all of that good work by the Elks was undone by the Alouettes rapid-fire comeback late in the second. The Elks never got back on track, as Montreal’s defence stiffened and didn’t allow Ford and company to get anywhere near the Als’ end zone for the rest of the game. Cornelius was stuffed on a third-and-short late in the third quarter.
Letcher said the Als were so obsessed with not letting the Elks score again, that he shook off an order to take a knee to give the Elks a meaningless single point late in the game.
Maltos connected on five field goals, including a 50-yard effort into the wind..
Ford finished the game with 21 completions on 30 attempts for 216 yards. He also ran for 47 yards. Fajardo was 23 of 29 for 258 yards, with another 30 on the ground.
The Alouettes forced three Elks turnovers.
Fajardo threw one interception.
Alouettes’ lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage was ejected early in the fourth quarter for spitting. It also came with a 25-yard penalty.
The announced attendance at Commonwealth Stadium was 22,822 for the Elks’ final home game of the season.
The Alouettes came into Saturday’s game knowing they’d already clinched second spot in the East, and will host the East semifinal at Percival Molson Stadium. When Hamilton lost 33-30 to B.C. on Friday, the Alouettes locked up their home date … The Als were without their leading rusher, William Stanback, because of illness. He has 752 yards on the ground this season. … The Elks announced this week that the upper bowl of Commonwealth Stadium will be closed next season, reducing capacity to approximately 31,000 and making for a more intimate fan experience.
Elks WR Manny Arceneaux caught Tre Ford’s first pass of the game, giving him 145 straight games with at least one reception. He is now fourth all-time in the CFL for consecutive games with a catch.
The Alouettes wrap up the regular season with a preview of the East semifinal, when they host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Elks finish their season next Saturday at Winnipeg.