Even over 48 hours later, it still seems unbelievable. The defending Grey Cup champions come into your house, top-loaded with a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and are expected to waltz all you. You’ve lost your first two quarterbacks to injury and your offensive effort the week previous was an absolute embarrassment. On paper, last Friday’s match had all the makings for a complete and utter beatdown.
Memos often arrive on paper; I’m guessing Rakeem Cato didn’t get this particular memo.
The Montreal Alouettes sent the former Marshall University QB out against the Calgary Stampeders and he turned in a performance for the ages, with the Alouettes controlling this game from start to finish and posting a 29-11 victory in front of a raucous Percival Molson Stadium crowd. Montreal secures its first win of the 2015 CFL season and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief; This team has itself a quarterback that can take care of business.
With Jonathan Crompton, Tanner Marsh and Dan LeFevour currently occupying the injured list, it looked like Canadian-born quarterback Brandon Bridge was going to get the start. But he and Cato both took turns with the starters during the week of practice and it was literally a last minute decision to instead give the start to the former Thundering Herd pivot. Fans who were hoping to see a Canadian QB start a CFL game will have to wait for another day as Cato came in and was absolutely perfect on his opening drive, connecting with Samuel Giguere for the game’s first TD.
Cato then continued to move the ball around extremely well and made several smart decisions, including handing off to Tyrell Sutton numerous times. Sutton has been tremendous from the get-go of training camp and his playmaking ability made the decision to part ways with Brandon Whitaker a little less gut-wrenching. Tyrell was able to literally run all over Calgary, who were missing their leader of the defensive unit Juwan Simpson. Between Cato’s accurate throws, Sutton’s punishing runs and the overall play-calling of OC Turk Schonert, the Stampeders simply had no answer for this offensive onslaught.
Cato also got a helping hand from former Stampeder Nik Lewis, who was itching to show up the only CFL team he has ever known. Not even winning two Grey Cup rings with this Calgary squad gave him any desire to take it easy on his former teammates. He was deemed expendable by the Stamps in the off-season and this was a prime opportunity for Lewis to remind Calgary’s brass of who they cast aside.
Nik only had three catches but each time he caught the ball, the big lug rumbled down the field for a huge gain. He even notched his first touchdown as an Alouette thanks to his surprising quickness and Rakeem’s ability to move the ball downfield. Round one belongs to #8 and the rematch will be August 1st in Cowtown.
In addition to Giguere and Lewis, Cato was able to thread the needle and find former BYU prodigy Cody Hoffman to notch the proverbial hat-trick of touchdowns. When the dust finally settled, Rakeem went 20 for 25, threw for 241 yards and most notable of all, had ZERO interceptions. The moment wasn’t too big for the 23 year old Cato, as he had the poise of a wily veteran despite of the monumental task that sat before him.
I had said that Montreal’s defense would have to play lights out if they were going to hang with the defending Grey Cup champs. That they did, as they managed to keep Calgary off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter. Bo Levi Mitchell is a tremendous quarterback and has the Grey Cup MVP to prove it, but he looked more like the wide-eyed rookie than what Cato was supposed to be.
Mitchell just wasn’t able to connect with his receivers the way he would have liked to. The Alouettes’ D also managed to keep the always dangerous Jon Cornish in check, as he posted a mere 59 rushing yards against Noel Thorpe’s charges. Cornish did manage to score a TD late in the game, but the damage was already done at that point. Having Cornish in the backfield is always a challenge and if you can find a way to stymie him, you certainly have a chance of winning.
With the win, Montreal equals its record at 1-1 and due to the dominance of all the Eastern teams this weekend, still sit tied with Hamilton in second place. But anyone who wrote off this Alouettes team when their top two QBs went down to injury will surely be choking down an extra-large serving of humble pie now. The Alouettes showed tremendous resilience and never once doubted their ability. Speaking with defensive star Dominique Ellis after the game, he was absolutely confident in not only his and the team’s chances to win this game going in, but also the ability of his young quarterback to right this ship.
He wasn’t alone in showering Cato with praise and respect. Throughout last Friday evening, the Twitterverse exploded with hundreds of Marshall football fans clamouring around their former quarterback. They have seen Rakeem win several important games for them and they had complete faith in his ability to do likewise for his new professional football team.
I’m sure many of these Huntington, West Virginia-based fans have never seen a CFL game before or probably couldn’t point the city of Montreal out on a map. But in the three hours or so that this game took to play, Alouettes Nation gained a whole new fan base. A Thundering Herd of fans, if you will!
The Alouettes now prepare for their first road trip of 2015 as they will be making their first visit to Winnipeg this Friday. The Blue Bombers also made a number of key roster changes in the off-season as they aim to play in the Grey Cup game that their city is hosting this year. But the Bombers are already faced with some adversity as their starting QB Drew Willy was knocked out of the game last week versus Hamilton and is not likely to play versus the Alouettes.
Can Montreal keep the wave of momentum going with their new quarterback? This was looking to be a rough stretch of upcoming games for the Alouettes, but they passed the first test with flying colours. If the Alouettes can keep opposing defenses guessing with Cato’s playmaking ability, the doom and gloom that hung over this team after week one will seem like a distant memory.
However, this will be crucial; the cat is now out of the bag. There is some film now on Cato for teams to work with so the Alouettes can’t catch anyone napping with this once mystical signal-caller. People know exactly who Rakeem Cato is now. But if Turk Schonert can call another masterful game and put together another potent offensive attack, the sky is the limit for this Alouettes team.
I’ll be back later in the week for a look at this coming Friday’s match-up. It’s back to work for your Alouettes tomorrow morning; if you are off on vacation, be sure to take in a practice and see how hard this team is working for you! As always, follow me on Twitter for more news and thoughts on the Montreal Alouettes.
GO ALS GO!!!