After a tough week in week eight for Redblacks quarterbacks with both Dominique Davis and Matt Nichols going down with injuries that would land them on the six-game injured list, Redblacks fans pondered who would be under center in week nine, and more importantly, if they would be any good. With just a weekend’s worth of reps for two players that had never seen CFL action, the Redblacks picked Caleb Evans as the starter and Taryn Christion as the backup.
It was always pretty clear that Evans and Christion would be used in some combination, but some fans really wanted to see Devlin Hodges, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback who the Redblacks inked to a three-year contract just over two weeks ago. Hodges was never an option for Redblacks’ head coach Paul LaPolice.
“(Having Hodges ready to start Tuesday) is not reality by any stretch,” Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins said. “We’ll just have to see how quickly he acclimates himself (to the system).”
Ruling Hodges out early was a good way to rid themselves of that distraction. Evans was able to prepare the whole week as the team’s starting quarterback with Christion breathing down his neck. He looked good all week in practice, and he earned the start.
“He showed accuracy with the football,” said LaPolice in his post-game availability. “He’s had the ability to use his legs and certainly has a strong arm. He had done that through training camp.”
Stepping onto the field without a preseason or any live reps had the odds against Evans. The Elks were heavy favourites in the game even with a rookie quarterback on their side in Taylor Cornelious.
Things got off to a fast and explosive start for Evans and the Redblacks, something that hasn’t been happening for them all year long. After a run from Timothy Flanders and a short pass for a first down, the Redblacks stole the momentum with a deep ball coming courtesy of wide receiver Ryan Davis to Kenny Stafford. It took only one more play for Evans to throw his first CFL touchdown pass, finding Davis wide open in the corner of the endzone from 20 yards out.
After that touchdown, there was a buzz in the stadium that hasn’t been felt this season. It was akin to some of the bigger moments in franchise history despite the importance being far less significant. At that moment, it felt like something special was about to happen, and the fans were loving it.
It didn’t take long for Evans and the Redblacks to get the football back either. The defence came up big and forced a Greg Ellingson fumble, gifting themselves great field position and a chance to extend their lead to two possessions before the game really even started.
Extend the lead was exactly what they did, this time on an inspired run after catch from Timothy Flanders. He found the endzone after scampering 18 yards, making a couple of people miss and breaking a few tackles.
Just like that, the Redblacks had 14 points. Evans had only thrown the ball three times and run it once, but you could tell that under his leadership, there was some confidence and mojo on both sides of the football. Everyone was playing for one another, to lift each other up and bring them to new heights.
“I’m excited,” said Evans. “It was a great game by my offensive line, a great game by my receivers getting open for me, it was a great game by coach calling the gameplan for me, so I felt comfortable out there the whole time. I was excited.”
The night didn’t continue to be as explosive as it started, but that pace would have been impossible to keep up. Evans continued to make good throws, make good decisions, and push the ball downfield, something that the Redblacks have been unable to do all season. He earned himself some high praise for his start, including a comparison to Montreal Alouettes star, Vernon Adams Jr.
“It was a great atmosphere from our fans, thank you fans for coming out,” said Stafford, one of the Redblacks’ new additions. “Caleb [Evans] played a hell of a game for him being a rookie and it seemed like, after that first series, everything was clicking for us. We didn’t look back after that first series.”
Late in the game up by 10 points, Evans found Stafford in the endzone for a touchdown. The window was tight, and it looked like it may have been intercepted, but the ball made it the Stafford to extend the Redblacks’ lead to 17.
With his arm, Evans was 15 of 22 passing for 191 yards and three touchdowns, but the best part of the game was his zero interceptions. He made good choices. When he went deep, they were relatively safe passes, and when nothing was there, he created with his legs by either taking off or by moving the pocket and finding someone down the field to throw to.
As impressive as Evans was with his arm, he was perhaps just as impressive with his legs. He ran the ball seven times for 59 yards and was the Redblacks’ leading rusher on the night. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry, and the Elks had no answer.
While crowning Evans the saviour of the Redblacks would be premature, fans now have a reason to tune into their next game. Not only do they have a young quarterback who is entertaining and could become the man of the future, they are also squarely back in the hunt for a playoff spot in the CFL East.
A glimmer of hope. That is all he needed to be, and that’s exactly what he was.