The Montreal Alouettes got a serious scare when Anthony Calvillo was carted off the field and taken to hospital with a rib injury, but it looks like the star quarterback will be fine.
Calvillo threw two touchdown passes to S.J. Green to stake Montreal to a 24-0 first half lead before he went down, but the Alouettes still held on to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 39-17 on Thursday night.
Calvillo got away with just having a dislocated rib, but he was to remain in hospital overnight for observation.
"He's in very stable condition," a relieved Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman said. "There's no crack, there's no break, there shouldn't be a rib that's involved with an organ right now. There was some pressure and some bruising, but the doctors are very optimistic that all the structure of his rib cage is still symmetrical."
With 4:52 to play in the second quarter, Calvillo dropped back to pass and was drilled to the turf by Winnipeg defensive end Odell Willis, falling on the football and damaging his ribs.
"I was a little surprised (to see him stay down)," Willis said. "It wasn't a big hit or anything, it was just a regular tackle. I wish him the best, my prayers go out to him and I hope everything's OK."
Calvillo lay motionless for several minutes as the sellout crowd of 25,012 went dead silent with concern for their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
"My heart dropped, he's the leader of our offence," left tackle Josh Bourke said. "You never want to say one person is more important than the team, but I don't think I'm fooling anyone when I say he's the most important person on offence."
Calvillo finally sat up and slowly got to his feet, drawing loud cheers from the Percival Molson Stadium faithful. But they went silent again moments later when, after taking only a few wobbly strides, Calvillo kneeled down on one knee and lay back on the turf.
"You go out there and you're very concerned, because he was having a little trouble breathing," Trestman said. "It was a little scary, it really was. But the doctors have reassured us that he's going to be OK."
A cart was brought on the field to take Calvillo to the sideline and he was seen leaving the stadium on a stretcher just before the end of the first half, leaving the Montreal offence in the inexperienced hands of Chris Leak.
"Chris hadn't had a (first team) practice rep since training camp, which is almost three months ago, but he was able to sustain himself and deal with some adversity," Trestman said of Leak, who went 10-for-15 for 99 yards with an interception in just over one half of action. "But not only did he step up, the team stepped up around him. We picked up our pace, we picked up our energy."
Montreal is entering its bye week and it couldn't come at a time with Calvillo's injury. Still, Leak says he'll be ready if ever his number is called for Montreal's next game Sept. 3 at home to B.C.
"Hopefully Anthony is back because obviously he's the leader of this team, he's the trigger," Leak said. "You always want your starter back in there whenever possible. But if it comes to me having to play another game, the coaches have done a great job preparing me week in and week out since I've been here."
Linebacker Chip Cox scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery and had a team-high nine tackles for the Alouettes (6-2), who extended their regular season home winning streak to 13 games.
Running back Brandon Whitaker rushed for two insurance touchdowns starting in place of the injured Avon Cobourne and Montreal kicker Damon Duval kicked four singles.
Jovon Johnson had an interception and a 74-yard punt return touchdown for the Blue Bombers (2-6), who lost their fourth in a row and fell further into last place in the East Division.
Brock Ralph caught a touchdown pass and Winnipeg's new kicker Justin Palardy made a 45-yard field goal on his only attempt of the night to account for all the points by the Blue Bomber offence.
Steven Jyles, getting his fourth start of the season in place of the injured Buck Pierce, had a difficult night. He lost two fumbles and was an erratic 11-of-22 for 123 yards, though he wasn't helped by his receivers who dropped several easy catches that would have gone for big gains.
"We missed an opportunity," Jyles said. "When (Calvillo) went down they lost one of their main weapons on offence, and we felt we had a chance. But we didn't capitalize on offence. We should have been putting the ball in the end zone then because we knew they wouldn't score too many points after that."
Jyles was replaced by Alex Brink with just under five minutes to play in the fourth and the Bombers trailing 32-17.
Jyles did have a big night on the ground with 76 yards rushing and running back Fred Reid added 103 yards on 13 carries.
The Alouettes were leading 24-0 when Calvillo left the game having completed 13-of-21 passes for 164 yards, and it didn't take long for the momentum to shift towards the Blue Bombers.
Just as Calvillo was being taken out of the stadium, Jyles found Ralph with a 29-yard touchdown pass with just 50 seconds left in the first half to cut the deficit to 24-7.
Palardy's field goal at 4:02 of the third made it 24-10 and Johnson's punt return touchdown at 13:15 of the third made it a one possession game going into the final quarter.
Meanwhile, Leak was having no success at quarterback for Montreal, going two-and-out on his first two series and throwing an interception to Johnson on the Winnipeg one-yard line in the third quarter.
But Leak slowly found his rhythm and eventually the Alouettes got back in the end zone to finish the Bombers off.
Whitaker, who had no carries in the first half but got 74 yards on 11 carries in the second, scored at 2:20 of the fourth on a 19-yard run to make it 31-17 Montreal.
Duval's fourth single of the game made it 32-17 before Whitaker scored on a 10-yard run at 13:36 to ice it for Montreal.
The game began according to script for the Alouettes as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead after one quarter on two Duval singles and the Cox 14-yard fumble return touchdown at 9:41 of the first.
Calvillo then found Green for two touchdowns within the opening minutes of the second, first on a 10-yard pass 15 seconds into the quarter and again at 2:24 on a 35-yard connection.
Duval added another single at 7:36 of the second to make it 24-0 Montreal, but Calvillo was hurt just under three minutes later and it was suddenly a new game, except Winnipeg couldn't complete the comeback.
Notes: Calvillo played his 218th game as an Alouette, joining recently retired centre Bryan Chiu atop the franchise list. Slotback Ben Cahoon played his 215th game in an Alouettes uniform, and caught at least a pass in his 135th straight game...Calvillo has missed six games since joining the Alouettes in 1998, and Montreal has a 2-4 record in those games. In the 30 games where Calvillo didn't start, including his early years when he was the backup to new Hall of Famer Tracy Ham, the Alouettes are 15-14-1...Winnipeg did not dress Pierce (knee), defensive halfback Brandon Stewart, running back Yvenson Bernard and safety Ian Logan... The Alouettes did not dress Cobourne (ankle), linebacker Diamond Ferri (illness), receiver Eric Deslauriers and offensive linemen Skip Seagraves and Dylan Steenbergen...