MONTREAL — It’s only one game and one night. But if this was a glimpse into the future, the Alouettes and their fans certainly have reason for optimism.
Montreal may have discovered its next quarterback — and, perhaps surprisingly, it’s Tanner Marsh, not Josh Neiswander.
“He played his ass off today,” said veteran non-import receiver Eric Deslauriers. “He’s very resilient. Whether he threw an interception or the pass was dropped, he kept throwing it and trusted himself.
“He took command of the huddle.”
Neiswander, in his third season with the Als, started for the concussed Anthony Calvillo. But he was replaced by Marsh, a rookie, before the first quarter had elapsed, Montreal already trailing, 12-0.
With the rain and wind swirling at Molson Stadium, and several fans already heading to the exits, Marsh led the Als on what will be remembered as one of the greatest comebacks in Canadian Football League history.
That it was orchestrated by a rookie, playing his first regular-season game, will simply add to the lore.
“He’s exciting, young and wants to learn,” said receiver Arland Bruce. “He’s energetic.”
This was one of those nights when it probably wouldn’t have mattered whether the Als won or lost, given Marsh’s exploits.
But in true storybook fashion, Marsh led the Als to an improbable comeback victory, 39-38, over the British Columbia Lions Thursday night.
Forget about Marsh’s four interceptions. Forget about his fumble. And forget about Montreal’s seven turnovers.
This is all you need to know: With 48.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Als scrimmaged from their five-yard line. On third down, Marsh connected with Deslauriers, an afterthought throughout his Montreal career, for a 22-yard gain.
And then, several plays later, he found Deslauriers for an incredible 57-yard gain, to the Lions’ seven. With 1.9 seconds remaining, Sean Whyte calmly kicked a 15-yard game-winning field goal.
It was simply incredible, especially considering the Als lost last weekend, at Saskatchewan, on a last-play field goal.
“Deslauriers was one-on-one. I’ll take him in that situation any day,” said Marsh, so many media surrounding his cubicle, Neiswander had to move off to the side.
“I’ll give him a jump ball any day.”
Deslauriers had a career day, catching four passes for 101 yards — none sweeter than the game’s penultimate play.
“To be honest, I was just doing my job,” Deslauriers said, almost matter-of-factly. “It almost turned into a photograph, it was such a pretty ball. I was looking at it and kept running.
“Give all the credit to Tanner Marsh.”
Marsh displayed a deft passing touch but, of more importance, he’s the first legitimate scrambling quarterback the Als have had on their roster since the now-departed Adrian McPherson.
Marsh almost immediately lit a fire under Montreal’s struggling offence and built confidence, not only in himself but was able to instil it in his teammates. When he was under pressure, he always seemed able to escape, sometimes miraculously.
Simply put, Marsh is exciting to watch. Of course, he’s also a rookie and threw four interceptions. But that will be part of his learning process and maturation.
“I think I showed that I’m a rookie. I made a lot of mistakes,” Marsh said. “I’m going to have to fix that to be successful.
“But it was a great team effort. The guys stuck behind me. That was a huge team win.”
Marsh completed only 14 of 32 passes, but generated 329 yards and one touchdown — a three-yard pass to S.J. Green more than 11 minutes into the second quarter on a third-down gamble. To say Marsh looked cool and unflappable on the play would be an understatement.
Marsh becomes the first Montreal quarterback this season to pass for more than 300 yards in a game.
He also gained 71 yards on nine carries, including a 16-yard scamper. Marsh scored himself on a six-yard run at 5:48 of the third quarter, capping a four-play, 91-yard drive. The series included an 86-yard pass-and-run play to Bruce.
Bruce, released by the Lions last January — only to be signed within days by the Als — looked like he was trying to prove a point. He led all receivers with seven catches for 167 yards.
“Marsh came in ready to play,” Bruce said. “He told me I was going to make plays.”
Tyron Carrier, it should be mentioned, must share the spotlight with many of his teammates.
Carrier might have jump-started Montreal, beginning the second half with a 65-yard kickoff return. Two plays later, Jerome Messam scored on a 16-yard run up the middle, reducing the Lions’ advantage to 21-14.
And then, midway through the fourth quarter, Carrier returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Als to within five points, 38-33.
That play came immediately following a Lions touchdown. It was that kind of night — the teams trading blows, Montreal continually picking itself up from the canvas.
“Special teams can change the whole aspect,” Carrier said. “That one play in the game provided us with a boost and spark.”
There’s still plenty of areas the Als require improvement in, including their special teams coverage. And, at 3-5, they haven’t suddenly become a powerhouse overnight.
But, for one night at least, a star has been born, the city belonging to Tanner Marsh. Or, as somebody put it on Twitter: Marsh Madness.
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