Matthew Shiltz has some very big shoes to fill Saturday night.
Shiltz will be under centre when Montreal (7-5) visits the B.C. Lions (3-10) at B.C. Place Stadium. It will be his first start of the season and just the second since joining the Alouettes in 2017.
Shiltz replaces incumbent Vernon Adams Jr., who’ll serve a CFL-mandated one-game suspension following a helmet-swinging incident in Montreal’s 38-37 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week.
Adams was engaged with Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill on an interception return. As Adams was going down, he had a grip of Bighill’s facemask with both hands. Bighill’s helmet came off as the Alouettes quarterback went to the turf.
Then while lying on his back, Adams Jr. swung the helmet with his left hand at Bighill. The Bombers’ star didn’t retaliate but tweeted afterward the helmet hit him in the face.
Adams was flagged for unnecessary roughness, but wasn’t ejected as Montreal rallied from a 24-point deficit to register the biggest comeback in club history. Adams certainly played a big role in that, completing 27-of-43 passes for 488 yards and four TDs while rushing six times for 38 yards.
Shiltz has appeared in two games this season, completing 11-of-16 passes for 107 yards. The 26-year-old started Montreal’s 2017 regular-season finale, a 33-0 loss to Hamilton, completing 7-of-16 passes for 96 yards with three interceptions while rushing four times for 20 yards.
It Shiltz struggles, the Alouettes also have former starter Antonio Pipkin available. But Adams is definitely Montreal’s offensive leader, having completed 206-of-317 passes (65 per cent) for 2,953 yards with 15 TDs and eight interceptions.
Adams has also rushed 68 times for 332 yards (4.9-yard average) and 11 touchdowns. Montreal is ranked second overall in the CFL in rushing (119.1 yards per game) and offensive touchdowns scored (34) and third in net offence (370.1 yards) and touchdowns (35).
The challenge for B.C. will be forcing Shiltz and Co. into second-and-long situations given Montreal leads the CFL in average yards on first down (7.3) and is tied with Edmonton for most average yards per play (6.6) and fewest interceptions (eight).
Montreal faces a Lions team coming off consecutive wins over Ottawa. And although B.C. starter Mike Reilly has been sacked a CFL-high 46 times this year, the Redblacks got to him only once in the two games.
Bryan Burnham (73 catches, 1,078 yards, five TDs) gives Reilly the CFL’s leading receiver. Despite B.C.’s record, the Lions have registered 21 30-plus yard pass gains, leaving them tied for first with Montreal.
If Adams’s absence isn’t enough, there’s Montreal’s struggles in Vancouver. The Alouettes are just 2-17 in their last 19 games there, the last victory coming in 2015.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Friday night)
At Winnipeg, Hamilton (10-3) concludes its Western road trip looking to finish 2-1 after last weekend’s playoff-clinching 30-27 win in Edmonton. Dane Evans finished 22-of-30 passing for 336 yards and three TDs. The Ticats’ defence had three picks and allowed just 60 yards rushing on 17 carries. That’s worth noting as the Bombers (9-4) have the CFL’s rushing leader (Andrew Harris) and its top ground game (148.4 yards per game). The home team will also be anxious to atone for failing last week to make a 34-10 lead stand up against Montreal.
Edmonton Eskimos versus Ottawa Redblacks (Saturday afternoon)
At Ottawa, it’s unclear if Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris will make his return to the Canadian capital as he’s listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Logan Kilgore started last week against Hamilton, throwing for 223 yards with two TDs and three interceptions as the Eskimos (6-7) suffered their fourth consecutive loss. Jonathon Jennings starts at quarterback for the Redblacks (3-10) but Dominique Davis will also play for the home team, which has dropped six straight and 10 of its past 11 since starting the season 2-0.
Saskatchewan Roughriders versus Toronto Argonauts (Saturday night)
At Toronto, Saskatchewan (8-4) comes off the bye able to clinch a post-season berth with a win. Brett Lauther’s late 39-yard field goal clinched a 27-25 victory over Montreal on Sept. 14 and improved the Riders’ record versus East Division rivals to 5-2. James Franklin starts for the Argos (2-10) after passing for 147 yards and a TD in relief of McLeod Bethel-Thompson in last week’s 23-16 home loss to Calgary. Franklin began the year as the starter but was injured and gave way to Bethel-Thompson, who went 2-8 at the helm.
Last week: 3-1.