MONTREAL — 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.
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.
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.
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 and a Marshall University graduate, 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.
“I don’t get nervous,” Cato said. “I lived a rough life. I lost my mom. I never seen my father. Those things are hard. Not football. I love the game of football, so every moment I try to have fun with it.”
A perfect opening drive culminated with a short touchdown pass to Giguere, capping off a nine-play, 95-yard scoring drive to open things up.
After the Als shut the door defensively in the first, Cato picked up right where he left off following the opening 15 minutes. On second down he connected with Lewis for a 36-yard catch-and-run — then, after a first down completion to Green on a curl route over the middle, Cato showed his ability to improvise on second down, escaping pressure and connecting with Giguere for a highlight-reel one-handed catch along the sideline.
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.
* Rakeem Cato is in some pretty elite company after an electrifying CFL debut on Friday night.
The 23-year-old completed 80 per cent of his passes (20-of-25 passing) and threw three touchdown passes, picking apart the defending Grey Cup Champions to lead the Alouettes to their first win of 2015.
Consider the situation and it’s even more impressive: Cato didn’t even suit up in Week 1. The Alouettes passer hadn’t even attempted a single regular season pass before Friday’s matchup against one of the CFL’s perennially top-ranked defences.
The last 16 CFL debut starters have gone 10-6, but overall, first-time starters are 37-70-1 since 1995. The upward trend could be explained by teams being patient with their backups and letting them learn and develop before their first career starts, yet for Cato the opposite was the case.
When comparing Cato’s debut to those of Matt Dunigan and Ricky Ray, let’s just remember that the Als’ starter is as pure a rookie as it gets – and again, he’s only 23.