THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL -- The playoff showdown between the Montreal Alouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats may well come down to which tailback excels -- CFL rushing leader Brandon Whitaker or his former mentor Avon Cobourne.
The running backs will be in the spotlight when the Alouettes (10-8) take on the Ticats (8-10) in the East Division semifinal indoors at Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
"It's definitely something I want to do," said Whitaker, who backed up Cobourne before the veteran signed last off-season with the Ticats as a free agent. "But I know he'll be ready to come out and play. We're just excited about the competition."
The two-time defending Grey Cup champion Alouettes ended the regular season with three straight losses, including a 43-1 pounding in Vancouver last week, and will be looking to regain their championship form after a spotty campaign.
Hamilton lost two in a row heading into the playoffs and will be looking to break an ugly streak of 13 consecutive losses in Montreal since 2002.
Ticats coach Marcel Bellefeuille confirmed that Kevin Glenn will at least begin the game at quarterback. Although backup Quinton Porter will be ready to step in if the veteran falters, as he has in recent weeks.
He also said that star linebacker Jamall Johnson is ready to return from injury to apply some extra pressure on Montreal QB Anthony Calvillo and help stop Whitaker, who piled up 1,378 yards on 227 carries as the CFL's rushing leader.
But while Whitaker has proven to be a quicker, more effective back with better outside running capability, it is yet to be seen whether he has the grit and intensity that made Cobourne a key player in Montreal's runs to the Grey Cup the last three seasons.
The stocky Cobourne had his game face on when he met reporters Saturday on the team's arrival from Hamilton. He said he had no special feelings about the chance to eliminate his former team.
"It doesn't matter who we play, we're going to win regardless," he said. "Honestly, Alouettes were good to me but you know that time has passed. I'm here to send these boys home and that's my plan.
"I don't know if they're vulnerable, but I think we can beat them. I don't think they're anything special, to be honest. I just think they're another team. The only teams I can say that were great this year was Edmonton and Winnipeg. They're the only two teams that beat us every time. Montreal, we beat them before and we're going to do it again."
The Alouettes know that a key to stopping Hamilton is to limit damage from Cobourne, a power back on the run who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He is also known as an enthusiastic talker, which Montreal linebacker Diamond Ferri would like to stop as well.
"That's my best friend, Avon Cobourne.," Ferri said with a wide grin. "We have to get to him often and early.
"We have to shut his mouth up. You hit him in the mouth, he ain't gonna talk. It's simple. You let a guy start talking a bit and things start going his way a little bit, he gets a bit of confidence."
The teams split their four regular season meetings, with each winning twice at home.
In those games, Cobourne rushed for 67 and 102 yards at home, but only two and 36 in Montreal. Whitaker ran for 30 and 56 in Hamilton, and 72 and 79 at home.
Cobourne was rested down the stretch because the Ticats knew they could only finish third, while Montreal was in the hunt for first place to the end, eventually losing out to Winnipeg, which has a bye to the East final.
"We had a chance to rest our bodies, so in reality, we did have a bye week," said Cobourne. "That helped us. But I think last game, Montreal didn't come out to play either. They took a week off, too. So it is what it is."
Belefeuille said he gave Glenn the start because he is the veteran and has done well against Montreal in the past.
Glenn said he was ready, and even worked on his "Barry White voice," the basso profundo of the 1970s R&B singer, to help his linemen hear his signals amid the playoff crowd noise.
"The offensive line say I got to use my Barry White voice," said Glenn. "Barry White's voice is deep, but not loud, so I don't understand what they're saying. I just run with it."
Asked if he has any of White's albums, Glenn said "I'm not that old."
The Alouettes defence needs to get to the pocket passer and perhaps force some interceptions, or adjust to Porter's scrambling ability if Hamilton makes a switch.
Montreal caught a break this week when linebacker Ramo Guzman's ankle injury turned out not as bad an expected, so he will play. But they won't get Canadian middle linebacker Shea Emry back from a concussion because he now has a nasty stomach ailment brought on by something he ate.
The Ticats, led by rush ends Justin Hickman and Steveie Baggs, will be looking to rattle Calvillo, who has been shaky and rushing throws in recent games.
"You have to perform your best whether you've had a great game collectively or a bad game," said Calvillo. "You have to forget about it and move on."
Coach Marc Trestman is confident there are enough veterans with big game experience to rebound from a disappointing end to the season, in which they wasted three chances to take top spot in the division.
"We have a number of guys who have been in these stress situations," he said. "And we have the luxury of playing at home.
"We have the ability to be a very good team and maybe that experience will help us get to that point (on Sunday)."
Montreal will have Tim Maypray back as kick returner after trying out two others in recent games.