November 14, 2019

Johnson Catches Hat-Trick Of Interceptions

It’s not surprising that Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr., didn’t know where Eskimos defensive back Josh Johnson would be during the East Division Semifinal.

Johnson, who made a career-high three interceptions to help the Eskimos secure a 37-29 victory over the Alouettes and advance to Sunday’s East Division final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, has been playing all over the Edmonton defensive backfield this season.

He returned to boundary (short-side) halfback late last week after Monshadrik (Money) Hunter was injured near the end of the final practice preparing for the Alouettes. It was the 29-year-old, fourth-year CFL veteran’s first game at the position since the opening game of the regular season.

Johnson has also started nine games at boundary corner, including the previous three games, four games at field (wide-side) corner and three games at field halfback this year.

“Josh, obviously filling in for Money, did a tremendous job,” Head Coach Jason Maas said. “Since he showed up, we know what he’s capable of. He’s played all over the field for us this year. To be able to put him in that halfback spot and for him to have a game like that – three picks – is phenomenal.”

Johnson stepped up at key times for the Eskimos. He dove in front of rookie receiver Dante Absher to stop a Montreal scoring threat midway through the third quarter, sat in a throwing lane in a zone defence for his second interception with less than two minutes to play and leapt in front of Alouettes receiver Eugene Lewis to make his third pick with 43 seconds remaining.

“Opportunistic, man,” Maas added. “That’s the beauty of it. When we needed it the most – our offence didn’t score a whole lot of points, didn’t put up a whole lot of plays in the fourth quarter – and our defence needed to stand on their head, they did.”

All three of Johnson’s interceptions were in Edmonton’s half of the field, and two of them led to Sean Whyte field goals that kept the Eskimos in a more comfortable eight- or 12-point lead.

“Catching them when we needed them,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I ever had three picks in a game. I’ve had two numerous times, but having three in a crucial game like this, I’ll never forget it.”

Johnson pointed out that knowing how versatile teammate Tyquwan Glass plays at boundary corner “gave me the opportunity to be able to play the game I like; be able to be aggressive, to be around the ball.

“It was sad that Money and Forrest Hightower (who was also injured last week) weren’t able to be with us today, but just making the plays for those guys and to be able to go back home and be able to smile for them and let them know that ‘Man, we’ve got your back, regardless of whatever the situation is.’

“Everybody just dialled in, and it was just the next man (up) mentality, and everybody came through when it mattered.”

Glass, a second-year CFL veteran who played nine games with Montreal last year, is a versatile player, as well, having also started games at every Eskimos defensive back position except safety this season.

Johnson had more interceptions in the final 24 minutes of Sunday’s playoff game than he has had during any of his four CFL regular seasons (two with the BC Lions and last year split between Ottawa RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats).

But he also feels like he should have picked off more than two passes this season, especially considering the fact that he knocked down nine passes.

“I’ve been practising so much, and I’m actually catching the ball,” he said. “I’ve finally got five picks. I should have had at least nine or 10 this season. Just dropping some balls, but staying dialled in and making the plays for my team.”

Johnson said the Eskimos defence was trying to keep the elusive Adams contained in the pocket as much as possible during Sunday’s game.

“If we made him be a passing quarterback, we had a better chance,” Johnson explained. “Whenever he started to get out of the pocket and started moving around and extending the play, that’s when we had a problem.”

Adams was under pressure in the pocket and didn’t have a great view of the field when he threw a pass on a “dig” or “square-in” route late in the game. Johnson was in a zone defence and anticipating the “back zone” pass.

“He threw it right to me,” said Johnson.

“Our biggest thing that we preached, man, was that everybody plays as one,” he added about the defence as a whole. “Regardless of the ebbs and flows of the game, we were going to make sure that we stayed together. At the end of the day, we were going to fight it all out as one team. If we went down fighting and we lost, then hey, that’s fine. But we knew we were going to go all out and give them everything we had.”