Winners win, it doesn’t matter where.
That’s certainly the case when it comes to quarterback Chris Merchant.
The 2017 Vanier Cup champion and reigning Hec Crighton Trophy winner was passed over by the CFL after being cut by the Montreal Alouettes ahead of the 2019 season, but he’s already making his presence felt overseas.
On Saturday, Merchant saw his first action in Europe, quarterbacking the Las Rozas Black Demons to a stunning 29-7 victory over the Badalona Dracs in Spain. While that accomplishment may mean little to Canadian football fans, it was a massive shift for European football.
Ahead of Saturday’s matchup, the Dracs had won 47 consecutive games in Spanish action and claimed the last four national titles. While Spain’s Liga Nacional de Futbol Americano is considered a mid-tier league by European standards, the Dracs have been routinely competitive in international competition and are highly regarded across the continent.
In his victory over the Spanish powerhouse, Merchant looked like his vintage self from his days with the Western Mustangs, managing the game, making the necessary throws and extending plays with his legs.
He finished 10-of-18 passing for 193 yards and a pick, while adding 46 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. A spectacular scrambling touchdown toss late in the first half was called back on a penalty.
The star Canadian’s arrival on the scene may mean a changing of the guard on the Iberian peninsula and it’s been a long-time coming. Merchant’s debut came more than a month after he arrived in Madrid, with the Black Demons’ previous two games being canceled due to the largest blizzard in Spanish history and a positive COVID test, respectively.
The native of Calgary was originally slated to play for the Wasa Royals of Vaahteraliiga in Finland last year before COVID delays forced a change of plans.
The Black Demons signed Merchant for the express purpose of toppling the Dracs from Spanish dominance, but he wasn’t the only acquisition. The quarterback’s favourite target on the afternoon was six-foot-five, 256-pound tight end Mavin Saunders, a contributor at Florida State who transferred to Kansas his senior year. Saunders caught four passes for 56 yards.
On defence, the Black Demons were led by cornerback Darius Robinson, a three-year starter at Clemson who spent training camp with the Buffalo Bills in 2014 before finding success in Germany. Robinson notched the game-sealing interception, while linebacker William Loyd, a former starter for Troy, made plays on the inside.
Spanish receiver Nicolas Castagno made two catches for 99 yards and homegrown running back Javier Carrasco carried 14 times for 77 yards and a score to round out the star contributors. French left tackle Doum Mamadou was even more impressive, completely erasing former Georgetown defensive end Mike Taylor III, who had four sacks in his debut two weeks ago.
Merchant and the Black Demons must now be considered the team to beat in Spain and the Canadian passer is just getting started. There are four games remaining in the Spanish regular season, with the potential for make-up games and playoff games on top of that, and Merchant hopes to use it to showcase his talent enough to get back to the CFL or jump to a larger international league.
Already one of the most accomplished players in U Sports history, conquering the world is simply next on the list.