Finally, after more than 600 days of no action because of the pandemic, the Canadian Football League opened what will be an abbreviated 2021 season over the weekend, and there was just one major surprise.
The Edmonton-Ottawa matchup didn’t play out as expected, but otherwise, all week 1 games went as expected.
The Redblacks were surprising 16-12 winners against the Elks on the road Saturday night. Because it was a home game, and because most pundits had written off Ottawa even before training camp, the Elks were expected to win, and win well. Up until late in the fourth quarter, it looked as though that’s how things would pan out.
Edmonton was in front 12-9 and threatening to score when a game-changing play altered the final outcome of the contest. Quarterback Trevor Harris threw a pick-six that was returned 102 yards by Ottawa defender Abdul Kanneh.
It was a somewhat dour defensive affair with neither offence able to fire on all cylinders. Perhaps the most notable thing about the game was the performance of Redblacks QB Matt Nichols. There wasn’t as much zip on the ball as there used to be and he threw it short, or miscued it, a number of times, suggesting that maybe his right shoulder is still not 100% right yet.
Earlier on Saturday, the Toronto Argonauts came from behind to edge the Calgary Stampeders 23-20 in Cowtown. Despite what many CFL observers had suggested before the season started the Argos’ roster actually lived up to its billing.
A lot of the so-called experts had pontificated during the offseason that Toronto had blown out its salary cap by signing ‘star players’ but that it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to the team’s win-loss record at the end of the regular season. Yes, it’s early days, and yes, we’ll see how it eventually turns out, but if their opening game is anything to go by, then the Argos shouldn’t be written off.
Read More: Argonauts Stun Stampeders In Home Opener
On Friday night at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, the hometown Roughriders took control of proceedings early and built what looked to be an insurmountable lead in a game they were expected to win. However, as is so often the case in the unpredictable world of football, their West Division rivals BC fought back to make a game of it.
At halftime, Saskatchewan was up 32-9 and appeared to be en route to a blowout against a Lions’ team being led by young Canadian QB Nathan Rourke, who made his unexpected CFL debut.
Rourke’s surprising start under centre was one of the highlights of this game. Unbeknown to just about everyone, veteran QB Michael Reilly had an elbow injury that kept him on the sidelines until the second half when he went to work. But Rourke came back late to see things out. He threw two touchdowns on debut but in the end, it wasn’t quite enough as the Riders held on to win 33-29.
Week one started with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers picking up from where they left off in 2019 and beating their Grey Cup rivals Hamilton as expected.
Although oddsmakers had the Tiger-Cats favoured for the W, which some of the Bombers’ players felt was disrespectful to them, it really had nothing to do with being respected or otherwise. The fact of the matter is Winnipeg was always going to be hard to beat at home at IG Field, and they proved it, winning 19-6.
Quarterback Zach Collaros again showed why he has become an important cog in the wheel. He tossed two first-half touchdown passes to receiver Kenny Lawler, evaded Hamilton’s defensive attempts to shut him down for the most part and continued to grow in confidence as the leader of Winnipeg’s offence.
But perhaps the player who made the biggest impact on opening night was running back Brady Oliveira. The Winnipeg native rushed for 126 yards. And while that statistic is impressive on its own, what made it even more notable was that Oliveira was the starting RB in place of the injured Andrew Harris. His are big boots to fill, but Oliveira did so admirably.
Montreal is scheduled to open its season away to Edmonton on Saturday.
13th Man Sports Player of the Week
POTW: Abdul Kanneh
6 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown