Rakeem Cato turned in a dream CFL debut against the defending Grey Cup Champions on Friday night, throwing three touchdown passes to lead the Alouettes to a 29-11 upset over the Calgary Stampeders at Montreal's Percival-Molson Stadium.
Samuel Giguere and Nik Lewis caught their first touchdown passes as Alouettes while Cody Hoffman scored the first of his career, as the Als' offence ignited to to provide Montreal its first win of 2015. Tyrell Sutton chipped in with a game-high 119 yards on 22 carries, powering an Alouette offence that never ceased control of the game's tempo.
Cato, 23, earned the late nod as the Als' starting quarterback after injuries to Jonathan Crompton and Dan LeFevour. With the spotlight on and the league's top-ranked team in town, he made the most of it, throwing for 241 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-25 passing.
Equally impressive was the Als' defence, holding Jon Cornish to 59 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 219 yards on 14-of-24 passing but failed to score a touchdown.
Former Stampeder Lewis had 65 yards on three catches for Montreal while S.J. Green chipped in with 60 yards on a game-high seven catches. Marquay McDaniel had a game-high 113 yards on six catches for Calgary in a strong losing effort.
Cato, just 23, showed no jitters out of the gate in his first career start. After first down completions to Green and Giguere followed by a 12-yard run by Sutton, Cato connected with Lewis to put the Als’ offence right on the doorstep.
That play was the difference between three points and a touchdown, as Cato went straight back to Lewis on the next play and the former Stampeder looked his vintage self, shaking off contact after the catch and bowling over the defender on the way to a six-yard touchdown. The two-point convert failed but the Alouettes took a 16-0 lead into the half.
The Als’ offence kept the foot on the gas in the third quarter, starting with the first possession out of the gate. Cato connected with Hoffman and Giguere twice on second down to keep the drive alive, then on second down connected again with Hoffman for a 15-yard touchdown strike, the first of the rookie receiver’s career.
Just like that, Montreal posted a 22-0 lead following a 12-play drive that consumed more than half the entire third quarter. The Stamps and Als exchanged field goals after that to make it 25-3, but what plagued the Stampeders in the third quarter turned out to be the story of the game: The Alouettes simply controlled possession of the football.
Calgary touched the ball only once throughout the third as Cato continued to move the chains on second down and frustrate the Stamps defensively, keeping the explosive Cornish-led Calgary offence on the sideline.
Nik Lewis steamrolled his former team on Friday night, proving a touchdown and 65 yards in the Als' win.
The Stampeders battled back to make this an intriguing game in the fourth, starting with a one-yard Cornish plunge over the goal line midway through the game's final frame. Mitchell connected on the two-point conversion to make it a 14-point game, but on the next Stamps' possession couldn't connect with Anthony Parker on third down.
Boris Bede struck for his third field goal of the game after that, putting the game out of reach for the Stampeders just inside the three-minute warning.
The loss marked the first of Mitchell's young career away from home, while the Stampeders failed to rush for 100 or more yards for the second time in two tries this season. In 2014 they eclipsed the century mark in 16 of their first 17 games.
The most impressive turnaround, however, was for the Alouette offence. The Als recorded a league-low 188 net yards on offence a week ago and this week eclipsed that in the first half alone, putting up 228 yards through just the first two quarters. Meanwhile, after the Als' three quarterbacks combined to go 10-of-28 a week ago, Cato completed 80 per cent of his passes on Friday night.
Brandon Bridge was highly anticipated to start in this game after playing in the second half last week, completing 5-of-10 passes for 62 yards with one interception. He would have become the first Canadian QB to start a game since 1996, but in a decision that came right down to the wire, Head Coach Tom Higgins opted to go with Cato under centre.
Cato will look to keep his hot hand a week from now when the Alouettes pay a visit to Winnipeg, while the Stampeders look to rebound back at home when they host Trevor Harris and the Toronto Argonauts on Monday, July 13.