Jonathon Jennings did not let an off-season of critical self-assessment go to waste Saturday night.
Jennings rebounded from a disappointing 2017 campaign and a winter of reflection as he completed 20-of-24 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns while leading the B.C. Lions to a 22-10 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in the 2018 season opener for both teams Saturday night.
“It felt great,” said Jennings. “It was my goal all off-season to come in here and respond. I know who I am as a player. I just had to come out here and do it.”
Jennings did not throw an interception after tossing more picks (19) than touchdowns (16) in 2017 as the Lions went 7-11 and missed the playoffs for the first time in two decades. He was decidedly different than the quarterback who threw three interceptions in a season-ending loss to eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto last fall.
“Obviously, I washed the whole season out,” said Jennings. “It was a bad season. It was what it was. I had to make sure I responded. I did everything I could to focus on the response this year and what I was gonna do to be a better player this year.”
Jennings also rushed for 57 yards as the Lions won their season opener for only the second time in the past six years. The Als lost after winning their past two season openers.
Ty Long’s 27-yard field goal with 2:44 left in the third quarter, which gave the Lions a 12-10 lead, ultimately decided the outcome.
B.C. got its touchdowns from Shaquille Johnson and Cory Watson, while Long provided the other points on two field goals, two punt singles and two converts.
The Lions rebounded from an early deficit as their defence held the Als scoreless after the first quarter.
Middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian said the Lions were guilty of being too anxious and giving up a number of big plays early. But the win will help B.C.’s season-long redemption effort.
“It’s one step closer on this journey (to the playoffs) and, really, is just building that team chemistry and team camaraderie,” he said.
Both teams entered the game looking to make good on sub-par 2017 seasons. While the Lions went through their woes in 2017, the Alouettes were a dismal 3-15.
Als quarterback Drew Willy, another signal-caller looking to redeem himself, now with his fourth CFL team after being released by Toronto and joining Montreal, completed 22-of-32 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown.
But new Alouettes coach Mike Sherman did not offer praise for Willy.
“I’ll have to look at the tape (on video) and really assess him and see what he was facing,” said Sherman.
Eugene Lewis scored Montreal’s lone major as he fell on a loose ball in the B.C. end zone following a Chris Williams reception. Willy was still credited with a touchdown pass on the play. Meanwhile, Boris Bede kicked a field goal and a convert.
The Alouettes were hurt by untimely penalties as they racked 125 yards worth of infractions.
“The effort was good,” said Williams, adding the offence needs to do more to help the defence. “We just lacked a little bit of discipline and execution.”
The Lions rebounded from the Lewis touchdown on their next drive as Jennings threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Johnson. But the Als went ahead 10-7 in the final minute of the opening quarter on a 30-yard Bede field goal.
Both quarterbacks were perfect on their passes in the first quarter as Jennings went 7 for 7. Willy, who is looking to revive his career with his fourth CFL club, completed all three of his passes.
Long accounted for all of the second-quarter scoring as he booted punt singles of 50 and 54 yards, leaving the Als with a precarious 10-9 half-time lead. After he put the Lions ahead 15-10 on a 30-yard field goal 1:42 into the fourth quarter, B.C. cemented the win on Jennings’ 11-yard touchdown strike to Watson at 8:27 of the final period.
“We lost the field-position battle today tremendously,” said Sherman, lamenting his team’s penalties. “And, that’s just unacceptable if we expect to win football games.”
Notes: Lions defensive back Marcell Young received a loud cheer from the crowd as he knocked down a male fan clad in underwear and a B.C. jersey after he ran onto the field during a break in the second quarter. The fan lay motionless for several moments before he was apprehended and hauled off by security personnel. The Als lost offensive tackle Rueben Carter to an injury in the first half. The Lions held a brief halftime tribute for late retired defensive lineman James (Quick) Parker, who died of a heart attack in March at the age of 60. Parker also toiled for Edmonton and Toronto and won four Grey Cups and multiple league defensive awards en route to CFL Hall of Fame induction in 2001.