For Drew Tate, it looked like the nastiest of initiations. Not only was he officially replacing Henry Burris, not only was he drawing the perennially tough Montreal Alouettes as his opening opponent, Tate had to share the quarterbacking stage with the CFL's all-time best, Anthony Calvillo.
Turned out the upstart earned the spotlight along with the win.
With Tate at the helm battling 'flu-like symptoms, the Stampeders took it to Montreal from start to finish on Sunday, turning an early lead into a punishing 38-10 final at McMahon Stadium. The outcome capped a clean-sweep holiday weekend for the CFL West Division, which handily beat its Eastern counterparts.
With 26,387 cheering them on, the Stampeders opened a new era without Burris at quarterback, without Joffrey Reynolds at running back and without Ken-Yon Rambo at receiver. Although Tate had four starts last season, he knew Burris could come in at a moment's notice. The torch was officially passed when Burris was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the offseason.
And Sunday night, Tate showed why that decision was made.
He ran the offence smoothly, moved the ball when he had to and shook off his miscues, a pair of interceptions. He also completed his first six passes and helped the Stampeders build an early 18-0 lead that had Montreal struggling to catch up.
"I was able to get in a flow, able to see the field," said Tate, who had been feeling ill since Tuesday. "I got greedy on the one [interception] trying to squeeze one into Nik [Lewis]. But I did a little better job of using my feet to make plays. I didn't think I'd have enough energy."
Calgary's defence jumped on Montreal's first mistake when rookie defensive back Keegan MacDougall scored on a 63-yard fumble return. Tate quickly followed with a seven-play, 76-yard drive capped by Jon Cornish scoring on a four-yard run. Then it was Cornish scoring again on another short run before Tate threw a 13-yard scoring pass to Lewis, who finished with 12 catches for 105 yards.
The Alouettes found themselves in such a deep hole not even the legendary Calvillo could lift them out of it. Montreal's lone signs of competence all came during a single drive. Calvillo, the CFL's career leader in passing yards and touchdowns, completed a 21-yard pass to Jamel Richardson then connected with Brian Bratton for a 37-yard touchdown. That pulled the Alouettes to within 11 points in the second quarter.
After that, Calvillo was pressured, his receivers dropped completions and it wasn't close any longer.
"We had three turnovers in the second half and we didn't capitalize on them," assessed Montreal linebacker Shea Emery, who drew an unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit on Tate. "[Tate] is a pretty dynamic quarterback. He goes through his (receiver) progressions well. We're pretty young as a defence and we just didn't capitalize."
Tate squared off against a remade Montreal defence that was missing several long-time stalwarts (Anwar Stewart, Diamond Ferri, Eric Wilson, Ramon Guzman). In the end, the 28-year-old Texan who had four starts last season was able to complete 25 of 35 passes for 299 yards and finish the game watching backup Kevin Glenn mop up.
"He's only started five games," Stampeders' head coach John Hufnagel said of Tate. "He made some mistakes. When he uses his feet, he makes plays and he gets the ball to his playmakers."
Rene Paredes kicked three field goals for Calgary, which now plays the Argonauts in Toronto on Saturday. Montreal hosts the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday.