It is Drew Willy’s time to show what he can do.
The 25-year-old rookie is to replace the ailing Darian Durant at quarterback when the Saskatchewan Roughriders visit the Montreal Alouettes at Percival Molson Stadium on Sunday.
Willy has shown promise while coming on in relief of Durant the last two games, both wins over the woeful Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“Getting used to the CFL game, I feel better every game,” the former University of Buffalo star said Saturday. “This week we have a good opponent in Montreal, so you just go out there and give it all you’ve got.”
The Alouettes (6-4) are coming off a 43-10 loss in Vancouver that ended a four-game winning run. The two-game winning streak for the Roughriders (5-5) followed five consecutive losses.
Willy took over in the third quarter of a 52-0 blowout win over the Bombers when Durant suffered a neck injury two weeks ago and completed 6-of-7 passes for 54 yards.
The six-foot-four pivot went in again when Durant injured his hip in the first quarter of a much tighter game in Winnipeg last week. He went 25-for-33 for 286 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, as Saskatchewan pulled out a 25-24 win.
Willy took most of the snaps in practice this week, which starting quarterbacks normally do, but coach Corey Chamblin waited until after the team’s walk-through Saturday to name his starter. Durant was on the field, but wasn’t moving much.
Chamblin said Durant needs to be able to run with the ball as well as throw it to be effective. And the coach has confidence in Willy.
“He did a phenomenal drive on the last drive (against Winnipeg),” said Chamblin. “He’s a poised young man.
“When he makes a bad play, he knows it and he comes back and wants to correct it.”
He picked a tough place to make his first start. Montreal is 13-3 at home against Saskatchewan since returning to the league in 1996 after a 10-year hiatus. They are 24-8 overall against the Riders in that period, plus 3-0 in the playoffs including wins in the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup games.
The Riders won 27-24 last season in Montreal when quarterback Anthony Calvillo left the game with an injury.
But as well as Willy has done, facing the Riders’ back-up quarterback should be a break for a Montreal team that is still recovering from a one-sided loss in British Columbia.
“We don’t want to write anybody else’s coming out party story for sure,” said Montreal coach Marc Trestman. “But we have a lot of respect for (Willy) and his team believes in him as well.”
Calvillo feels it is important for the Alouettes to bounce back, and they have a history of doing so. Since 2008, they are 6-0 in the next game after losing by 17 or more points.
The game in B.C. ended the 40-year-old quarterback’s record eight-game streak of throwing for more than 300 yards. He was held to 16 completions for 152 yards. This week, he will be up against another of the CFL’s best defences.
“The challenge is to bounce back from something like that, just because of how we performed,” said Calvillo. “Too many mental mistakes across the board.
“That’s part of our challenge now, to get back to the type of ball we were playing the four previous games. We had a great week of practice and I’m very confident we’re going to go out there and do that.”
One of his favourite targets, Jamel Richardson, returned from injury last week, but another top receiver, Brandon London, is out.
For the Riders, receiver Weston Dressler needs 17 yards to reach 5,000 in his career.
Another player to watch is former Alouettes linebacker Diamond Ferri, who was cut before the season and signed on with Saskatchewan. He sat out the last game, but the fiery veteran is expected to be on the field looking to make an impact in his return to Montreal, even if Chamblin said it would be a game-time decision whether he plays.
“I’m totally prepared, mentally and physically and I’m really excited to be back,” said Ferri. “Especially, if I do play, because it’s my homecoming and it’s against Montreal.
“There’s no bitterness. At the beginning of the season my expectation was to be on the Montreal Alouettes. But things differed because of the system, salary and whatever they were saying. Saskatchewan took me in, treated me well and they have confidence and believe in me. So it’s important.”