For hardcore NFL fans such as myself, the start of the pre-season is like Christmas morning for children. We wait for eight months to…
The earliest start to an 18-week Canadian Football League season ever delivered some good games and plenty of storylines.
Here’s what you need to know, your opening weekend headlines.
Thursday’s season-opener was epic
It was also the second-longest game in Canadian Football League history, concluding on Friday morning, nearly five and a half hours after it commenced, thanks to two separate weather stoppages at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.
In the end, it was a come-from-behind 33-30 Edmonton win behind 400 passing yards from reigning Most Outstanding Player Mike Reilly and a 44-yard Sean Whyte field goal with less than half a minute remaining.
The game, which Winnipeg led for the majority, showcased what’s great about the Canadian Football League and set the bar pretty high for the rest of the weekend.
We have an early Catch of the Year candidate.
And it’s Juwan Brescasin the Calgary receiver from Ontario who snagged an unbelievable one-handed catch in the second quarter of the Stamps win over Hamilton at McMahon Stadium. It’ll take an absolute beauty to beat it, but there’s plenty of football to come.
Charleston Hughes now has 100 CFL sacks
A memorable night for a number of new Saskatchewan Rough Riders on Friday, and particularly so for the hulking defensive end, who had three sacks of Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray to bring up his century of CFL sacks. Hughes is going to be really popular really quickly in Regina if he keeps up that production, and his combination with Malik Jackson on that Rough Rider front is going to be one to watch this season.
Hamilton will be much better this year
Based on one game, in which the TiCats gave Calgary a real run for their money deep into the fourth quarter, the combination of June Jones coaching and Jeremiah Masoli starting at quarterback should be a lot more fruitful than what Hamilton went through to start last year.
Masoli is undoubtedly the quarterback with the most pressure on him thanks to Johnny Manziel’s presence on the sideline as the second-stringer. He showed some great poise Saturday night, making plays with his arm and his leg, but also threw a bad interception late to seal the game for the Stampeders.
Chased from the pocket, it was a ball he should’ve throw into the stands. Instead, he lobbed it up for grabs and it was picked off. That was an egregious error, but overall, a good game from Masoli. Another chance for him to impress next week in Edmonton.
Calgary’s run game looks dangerous
Granted, it’s a one-game sample size, but the backfield combination of Don Jackson and Terry Williams combined for 117 yards and a touchdown on 18 combined carries as the Stampeders outlasted Hamilton 28-14 in a somewhat closer-than-expected game on Saturday.
It is heartening for Stamps fans (I’m one of them) to see the run game step up on a night where quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell wasn’t at his gun-slinging best.
Chris Streveler had a great debut on Thursday night
So maybe it won’t be all doom and gloom in Winnipeg with star quarterback Matt Nichols out for up six weeks.
That thanks to Chris Streveler, the South Dakota graduate, who became the first rookie to start straight from college in the Canadian Football League since Anthony Calvillo way back in 1994. Streveler showed a strong arm and a great turn of speed, a combination that’ll give opposing defences fits going forward. He was 15 of 28 for 178 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had thirty yards’ rushing on seven carries.
For the most part, the bad throws came early, as Streveler got used to the pace of pro football and although the Blue Bombers lost, there’s no doubt that the rookie impressed.
Zach Collaros looked like his old self again
I’m talking 2014 Zach Collaros, when he was tearing it up for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. For a number of reasons, some off-field in Hamilton and some to do with Collaros’ injuries, the former Cincinnati Bear Car wasn’t the same quarterback in the last few years, benched for Jeremiah Masoli last season after a 0-6 start.
An offseason trade to Saskatchewan was a chance at a new start for Collaros, and he looked Good Friday night as the Rough Riders dispatched the reigning Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts. Collaros went 18 of 25 for 201 yards and a solitary touchdown. His throws, for the most part, were right on the money, and he showed little of the timidity we saw behind a porous Hamilton front a season ago. Early days, for sure, but good signs for the future.
Importantly for Rider fans and Collaros himself: what was expected to be a sketchy offensive line looked pretty good.
Jonathan Jennings looked like his old self, too
After a disastrous 2017 season, the B.C. Lions pivot turned back the clock a little, showing signs of what we expected from him a year ago. Jennings completed 20 of 24 passes for 183 yards and two majors as well as 57 yards, a career high, rushing. Granted, it was only against Montreal, expected to be CFL cellar dwellers in 2018, but a good sign after nineteen interceptions and a lot of time on the bench last year.
Saskatchewan’s defence had a night out
With Charleston Hughes (3 sacks) and Malik Jackson up front, Ed Gainey and former Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (a late interception return touchdown) both in the backfield, the Riders did a masterful job of slowing down a high-powered Toronto offence. Any time you can limit a unit featuring Ricky Ray, James Wilder Jr, S.J. Green, Armanti Edwards and Martese Jackson to just 19 points and just four in the first half, it’s a good day out. Ray uncharacteristically passed for just 232 yards and an interception.
Don’t streak at a CFL game
We saw the perils of illegally entering the field of play on Saturday night in Vancouver, when an unfortunate invader was unceremoniously flattened into the turf by BC Lions Marcell Young. It was undoubtedly a rude awakening for the streaker, who did his thing in a Jonathan Jennings jersey, and will most likely deter fans from trying their own luck in the future.