Tanner Marsh didn’t need any late-game heroics to win his first CFL start.
The rookie quarterback threw for 309 yards and a touchdown to lead the Montreal Alouettes past the Toronto Argonauts 20-9 on Tuesday night. Marsh did a solid job of managing the game, surrendering just one interception after throwing four and losing two fumbles coming off the bench last week to rally the Als past B.C. 39-38.
Marsh received plenty of help Tuesday night from a Montreal defence that held Toronto (5-4) to just one point from two impressive early drives, then forced four turnovers, including linebacker Shea Emry’s 38-yard first-half fumble return for a TD.
“When you’re a young quarterback trying to get into a groove and you see your defence make huge stops, that gives you a lot of confidence,” Marsh said. “Our defence did nothing but that, they did a great job, an amazing job.
“I have to get hit a few times in order to get into and I got hit and I was into it, I just got into a groove. It’s an awesome feeling winning your first start. It’s a great start to a career.”
Marsh’s 57-yard completion to Eric Deslauriers set up Sean Whyte’s game-winning 15-yard field goal against B.C. The 23-year-old Texan finished 18-of-27 passing versus Toronto and got the better of Argos sophomore Zach Collaros before a Rogers Centre gathering of 18,863 consisting mostly of enthusiastic university students. They witnessed a contest that felt more like a pre-season game given the seven combined turnovers, 19 penalties and 18 punts.
But Marsh’s calm demeanour impressed Alouettes veteran receiver S.J. Green, who had eight catches for 143 yards, both game highs.
“Tanner came out very poised and took control of the game,” he said. “He made the plays and kept us moving.
“We already believed in him and it’s great how he showed up and played well.”
Montreal interim coach Jim Popp said Marsh’s biggest attribute is his ability to always look downfield.
“He keeps his eyes upfield, that’s the biggest thing and he gives us a chance,” Popp said. “He gives us a chance to make plays.”
Collaros, Toronto’s starter with incumbent Ricky Ray (shoulder) out six weeks, was 21-of-32 passing for 261 yards with a TD but threw an interception and had a costly fumble. The former Cincinnati star was hurt at 9:59 of the second when taken down by an illegal Chip Cox horse-collar tackle. He was replaced briefly by Trevor Harris but returned on Toronto’s next possession.
Montreal (4-5) doesn’t have time to enjoy the win. The Alouettes host Toronto on Sunday to complete the home-and-home series.
Montreal is tied with Hamilton (4-5) for second in the East Division after improving to 2-0 with veteran Anthony Calvillo (concussion) sidelined.
The Argos certainly had their chances. Their best opportunity to get back into the game came late in the third when Dontrelle Inman’s 10-yard catch put them at the Montreal 13-yard line. But Popp successfully challenged the play, correctly contending Inman fumbled and Alouette Byron Parker recovered.
Marsh then hit Duron Carter — the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter — on a 47-yard completion to end the third to set up Sean Whyte’s 14-yard field goal at 1:50 of the fourth for a 20-8 advantage.
“That [challenge] was a big play because had they scored it would’ve been a different game,” Popp said. “I’m just glad we were able to get the ball and move it up the field.”
Toronto also opened the game with two impressive drives but only managed Noel Prefontaine’s single off a missed 30-yard field goal at 2:39 of the first. Prefontaine set up for a 30-yard boot on the Argos’ second drive but holder Harris bobbled the snap and was held short of the first down, giving Montreal possession at its own three-yard line.
Collaros hit John Chiles on a 34-yard TD pass at 10:01 of the first to put Toronto ahead 8-0 but Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said the missed early chances were big.
“I felt like we could’ve had a much larger lead there late in the first quarter,” he said. “We didn’t and that’s part of football games and we’ve got to be able to continue play.
“But I felt we left some opportunities out there.”
Predictably, Milanovich didn’t pin the loss on Collaros.
“It’s never all on one guy,” he said. “You can’t turn the ball over as many times as we did and have the penalties.
“We started off decently, we weren’t able to finish drives. We got into a little bit of a funk and weren’t able to get out of it.”
Montreal tied the season series 1-1 as the Argonauts won the first meeting 39-13 on Aug. 8. The two teams play their regular-season finale Nov. 1 at Rogers Centre.
Prefontaine booted the convert and two singles.
Arland Bruce III scored Montreal’s other touchdown. Whyte kicked two field goals and two converts.
Emry’s 37-yard return of a Collaros fumble and Marsh’s 28-yard TD strike to Bruce in the second quarter staked the Alouettes to an unlikely 17-8 lead in a sloppy opening half of missed opportunities. Emry scored at 13:31 less than five minutes after Bruce gave Montreal its first lead of the game.
“He just wants to be that guy,” Bruce said of Marsh. “You can see that in the classroom, you can see that at practice.
“He doesn’t get flustered. If he doesn’t make a play, he’ll stand up as a man and say, ‘Hey, that’s my fault guys, I’ll get better,’ and that’s what you want from a quarterback. I think he’s going to get better.”
Notes: Astronaut Chris Hadfield performed the ceremonial opening kickoff . . . Bruce’s first-half TD catch was the 90th of his CFL career, making him just the sixth player to reach that lofty plateau . . . Toronto’s next four games are on the road. The Argos return to Rogers Centre on Oct. 4 to host Hamilton . . . . Between them, Calvillo and Ray have a combined 446 CFL starts (277 for Calvillo, 169 for Ray). They’ve also won three Grey Cups apiece . . . Cox came in leading the CFL in tackles with 62, nine ahead of Toronto’s Robert McCune, who was in second . . . Montreal linebacker Kyries Hebert, the club’s second-leading tackler who was tied for fifth overall with 42, was one of the four players scratched from the contest . . . Ottawa Redblack GM Marcel Desjardins was in attendance.