A man of considerable faith, B.C. Lions head coach and general manager Wally Buono wrote a message to Jonathon Jennings containing a bible verse after he benched the struggling quarterback in the wake of three straight losses.
“Doing something above and beyond means a lot,” Jennings recalled. “It was saying, ‘Don’t fear anything because I’m always with you.”’
The third-year pivot didn’t know it then, but he would be back on the field sooner than anyone expected.
Jennings came off the bench to throw for 295 yards and two touchdowns after Travis Lulay suffered a suspected torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee as the B.C. Lions snapped a three-game losing streak with a 41-18 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Jennings. “That’s the sad part about this game – injuries like that. Especially the way he’s been working, how hard he’s been working, how well he’s been playing.
“It’s tough to see as a friend and it’s tough to see as a teammate.”
Jennings connected with Emmanuel Arceneaux and Chris Rainey on TD tosses for the Lions (6-5), who were coming off a bye week and moved, at least temporarily, ahead of the Saskatchewan Roughriders into fourth in the West.
Rainey also blocked a field goal that led to Anthony Gaitor’s 73-yard touchdown return on the final play of the first half, while Jeremiah Johnson ran in two more scores – his CFL-leading 10th and 11th TDs of 2017.
Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham each had over 100 yards receiving for the Lions.
“We’re all here to do a job,” said Jennings, who was hurt on the first play from scrimmage against Hamilton in July, forcing Lulay into action. “As the second-string quarterback, you know you’re the next play away. I worked all week to prepare myself for the opportunity if it came.”
Darian Durant threw a TD to Ernest Jackson and scored another on the ground, while Boris Bede kicked a field goal for the Alouettes (3-8), who have now dropped four in a row and sit third in the East.
Jennings was benched after three ineffective performances in his return from an injury to his throwing shoulder, but was pressed into service when Lulay was tackled by Montreal’s Branden Dozier on a six-yard run as he looked for a first down on the second play from scrimmage.
Lulay, who nearly led an improbable comeback after replacing Jennings at halftime of B.C.’s 31-24 loss to the Redblacks in Ottawa on Aug. 26, was seen wiping tears from his eyes after being helped to the sidelines where he was examined by trainers and had his leg placed in an air cast.
“There’s significant damage,” Lulay said afterwards. “We’ll have to do an MRI to confirm what happened exactly.
“I’m shocked more than anything. Things happen.”
Set to turn 34 later this month, Lulay has dealt with a number of serious injuries in his career, but was back healthy and had a 3-1 record in Jennings’ absence earlier this season. He came into Friday with the CFL’s top passer rating and completion percentage.
“We’re going to rally around him and that’s going to motivate us going forward,” said Burnham. “That’s life for you. You think everything’s starting to go good and, bang, you’re right back down.”
Following the Lulay injury, Jennings capped B.C.’s first drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Arceneaux and two-point conversion to Burnham for an 8-0 lead.
“Sports is cruel,” said Buono. “At the end of the day you’re a professional athlete. You need to put aside all your emotions and go play.
“As cruel and callous as that sounds, that’s how it is.”
Bede responded with a 48-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and the Alouettes then stuffed the Lions at their goal line on three straight plays. But B.C. defensive lineman David Menard sacked Durant in the end zone on the next snap for a safety that made it 10-3.
Bede gave up another safety on Montreal’s next possession with just over two minutes to go in the half, and Rainey provided the Lions a nice return before snagging an eight-yard TD from Jennings with 34 seconds left.
A 53-yard run back by Stefan Logan and a 30-yard completion by Durant to B.J. Cunningham set the Alouettes up for 30-yard field goal attempt with one second on the clock. But Rainey fired off the edge to block the kick, and Gaitor returned it all the way before heaving the ball into the stands at B.C. Place Stadium in celebration as the Lions led 26-3 at the break.
“It’s huge,” Jennings said of snapping the losing streak. “We had to turn it around.”