It will be a special day for a pair of 35-year-old Montreal Alouettes when they face the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night.
Quarterback Darian Durant will play his first game in Regina since his bitter parting with the Roughriders and coach Chris Jones in January. And it may be the final game in the 14-year career of receiving great Nik Lewis, although he’s ready to keep playing if the Alouettes want him.
It will not be the triumphant homecoming that Durant hoped for when he was traded to Montreal after 11 seasons in Roughriders’ green and white.
The Alouettes are 3-13 and last in the nine-team Canadian Football League. Durant has struggled to move the offence, while the 9-7 Roughriders have clinched a playoff spot using two of the quarterbacks Montreal jettisoned last season _ Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge.
“We’re just trying to get a win and go out there and play some good football, something we haven’t been doing,” Durant said Tuesday. “Of course it’s an environment that has been a part of my past, but we need this game and that’s how I’m approaching it.”
All looked promising for Durant when he faced the Riders in the opening game of the regular season and threw a pair of touchdown passes in a 17-16 win, but the season quickly went downhill. The Alouettes have lost nine games in a row, including five straight since general manager Kavis Reed replaced Jacques Chapdelaine as head coach.
Durant, who Montreal hoped would be a veteran presence to stabilize its quarterback position, ranks seventh in the league with 3,107 passing yards, with 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He returned after missing two games and completed only eight passes for 92 yards in a 43-16 loss at home to Hamilton on Saturday before giving way to rookie Matt Shiltz.
Reed has not guaranteed he will return next season.
“No, I haven’t played my best football this year,” said Durant. “I can’t do it alone, that’s why football’s the ultimate team sport.
“It’s not about proving points any more. What’s done is done. It’s about us trying to get a win. Who knows what next year holds, but my job is to try to help this team win and show I still have a lot of football left in me.”
Jones seemed to pin a lot of the blame for Saskatchewan’s five-win 2016 campaign on Durant. Many fans were furious when Jones traded the 11-year Roughrider who led them to a Grey Cup on home turf in 2013, but the team looks to have turned the corner without him.
“I’m happy for my friends on that team, I’m happy for the community,” said Durant, who will play in the new Mosiac Stadium for the first time. “They deserve a winning situation there.
“I have no problem with Chris Jones. I just have a problem with what he said. It could have been handled in a better way. I’ve always respected him as a coach. It’s just when you start pointing fingers and you have a lot to do with what you’re pointing fingers at, that’s my only problem.”
Reed could have used the Alouettes’ two remaining regular season games to give Shiltz more playing time, but didn’t want to deprive his veteran pivot of a special moment.
“Darian is going back to Saskatchewan, the place he was traded from and where he’s a legend,” said Reed. “When you look at where we are in the standings and what the end of our season looks like, why not give this young man an opportunity?”
Lewis is set to return after missing three games with a right leg injury. The long-time Calgary Stampeder who joined Montreal in 2015 reached the 1,000 career catch mark this season and sits fourth all-time in that category.
“I came in today, they wanted me to play and here I am,” said Lewis, his voice trembling with emotion. “I could play the last game probably of my career in front of a lot of family, some new friends I’ve made, and get an opportunity to walk off the field the way I want to, hopefully healthy, happy and just feeling blessed.”
He feels he can keep playing, but Reed wants a younger squad next season and there may not be a place for him, despite his 70 catches this season for 619 yards. The Alouettes will have a new coach in place in 2018 who may have his own ideas on Lewis’s worth.
“It all depends on who comes in next,” said Lewis, who is slated to sit out the season finale next week in Hamilton. “If they want me around as a player, then I’ll be ready to go.
“I feel like I have a lot left, but I’m also ready to transition. I’m at peace with this being it, if it is.”