Hec Crighton-winning QB Chris Merchant vying for Spanish Bowl title on Saturday

Photo courtesy: Mustangs Athletics

Doom-scrolling for the latest news on an uncertain and delayed CFL season can take an emotional toll on fans of Canadian football, but for the pigskin-starved, Saturday promises to be a beam of sunlight.

That’s because Chris Merchant, reigning Hec Crighton trophy winner and favourite native son, has a chance to quarterback his team to a championship victory, adding another accolade to his already impressive trophy case.

It just so happens that championship will be in Spain.

Merchant will be at the helm for the Las Rozas Black Demons as they take on the four-time defending champion Badalona Dracs in the 27th annual Spanish Bowl. Both teams sit at 8-1 on the season with their only losses coming at the hands of their title game opponent.

Merchant’s debut for the Black Demons in February snapped a 47-game win streak for the Dracs in national competition. Badalona returned the favour in the regular season finale last month, notching a victory while Las Rozas rested Merchant for the playoffs. Both teams cruised to easy semi-final victories two weeks ago.

Canadian fans know Merchant is no stranger to a big stage. The quarterback originally committed to the University of Buffalo before transferring to Western Ontario in 2016. He quickly became the club’s starter, leading the team to an 8-2 record and a berth in the Yates Cup.

Merchant helped the Mustangs capture the Vanier Cup the following season, ending Western’s 23-year championship drought. The Calgary native was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after recording 276 passing yards, 89 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Laval.

Western returned to the Vanier Cup under Merchant’s leadership in 2018, but lost to the Rouge et Or by a score of 34-20. The quarterback set new career-highs in passing yardage (3,279) and touchdowns (23) that season.

Merchant’s college accolade earned him an opportunity as an undrafted free agent with the Montreal Alouettes, but he was released at the end of training camp. He returned to school, capping his career at Western in 2019 by winning the Hec Crighton Trophy, given annually to the top player in U Sports football. It marked the first time a member of the Mustangs earned the award since Andy Fantuz in 2005.

The star Canadian pivot has dominated in Spanish competition all year but will have his work cut out for him against an athletic Dracs defence. Fans from Canada can view the game live and free of charge on AFI.tv starting at 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST. The game will also be made available on-demand after the fact.

Win or lose, Chris Merchant’s European adventure will continue as he has signed with the Stockholm Mean Machines of the Swedish Superserien for their upcoming season.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.