QB Cody Fajardo wants to validate Alouettes’ status as the CFL’s best

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“This team wants to validate that we’re building something special and it wasn’t just this incredible run we went on. We want it to carry over into 2024.”

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If 2023 was the season of redemption for Alouettes quarterback Cody Fajardo, this year will be about consistency and establishing himself as one of the CFL’s elite.

Or as Fajardo put it following Wednesday’s practice at Stade Hébert in St-Léonard: “The validation. It’s about consistency, showing I can do it year after year. And then validating things, making all those people who questioned whether it was a one-hit thing or we got lucky. We want to go out there and me, personally, I want to validate it.

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“This team wants to validate that we’re building something special and it wasn’t just this incredible run we went on. We want it to carry over into 2024.”

Fajardo and the Als are off to a good start. Not only did Montreal win its season-opening game at Winnipeg last week, 27-12, in a Grey Cup rematch, it defeated a team thoroughly and convincingly that was seeking revenge and redemption. The Blue Bombers were held without a touchdown for nearly 59 minutes.

And, despite throwing a first-quarter interception on a pass intended for Cole Spieker, Fajardo acquitted himself well, completing 20 of 28 passes for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Tyson Philpot — one covering 76 yards on a flea-flicker.

Now Fajardo and the Als have to do it again, Friday night at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

Fajardo lost his starting job at Saskatchewan late during the 2022 season, deemed the scapegoat for the Roughriders’ deficiencies. While it’s always easy to pick on a team’s first-string quarterback, Fajardo knew his time was over when the Riders signed former Als pivot Trevor Harris as a free agent. Montreal general manager Danny Maciocia signed Fajardo because he was the best of the remaining lot available.

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While Fajardo wasn’t spectacular with the Als, he was consistent and managed most games effectively. He completed more than 71 per cent of his throws, passing for 3,847 yards and 14 touchdowns while being intercepted 12 times. He then went out in the Cup finale, saving his best for last. Fajardo passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns and was named the game’s most valuable player, leading the Als on a late seven-play, 83-yard drive in 1:42 for their come-from-behind victory, defying the favoured Bombers, who didn’t think Fajardo could beat them.

“We scored touchdowns when we needed to,” Fajardo said of the Als’ first win. “We put together some good drives. I thought we protected the ball really well, minus the early turnover by me. Other than that, when it gets into a turnover battle we’re going to win a lot of those games. Our offence does a really good job of protecting the ball, playing the field position (game) and finding a way to be in it in the fourth quarter.

“I felt like I could have played better,” he added. “For me, personally, it’s about getting back into a rhythm. Feeling a little more settled in the confines of the pocket. I felt like, at times, my feet were a little bit sloppy, which led to some inaccurate balls. With not having such a strong arm, I pride myself on being accurate.”

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Defensively, the Als produced three turnovers and held quarterback Zach Collaros, a two-time CFL most outstanding player, to 209 passing yards. Collaros never appeared comfortable on the field and was sacked twice — once by new defensive tackle Derek Wiggan.

“I was able to witness their run defensively last year,” said Wiggan, signed as a free-agent from Calgary. “We practice at a level, have consistent habits, we’re competitive and that carried over to the game. I see why they went on their run and won it all last year.

“Consistency every day. There’s a high compete level every drill. We don’t want to give up anything. We compete, execute and hold each other accountable. Details are emphasized.”

Edmonton opened its season with a 29-21 loss at home against Saskatchewan. The Elks appeared in control but were outscored 21-3 in the final quarter.

Nonetheless, they won’t be taken lightly by the visitors, forced to travel west for a second consecutive week.

“We want to keep the momentum going,” Fajardo said. “We have a tough task against an Edmonton team that’s extremely better than where they were last year. It’s not going to be easy and being out west again, back-to-back road trips is always difficult. I think guys are ready for the challenge.

“If people want to talk about us being the best team in the league, we have to go out there and be consistent and do it, each and every week. We can’t have a week off. That’s not what the best teams do.”

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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