The backup quarterback often is the most-popular guy on a team — especially when he comes off the bench in the second half and preserves a victory.
Jeff Mathews has experienced mixed results during his Canadian Football League career, which has included stops in Hamilton and Toronto. But he was methodically effective in the second half last Saturday at Saskatchewan.
With the Als clinging to a 13-6 third-quarter lead, Mathews replaced the injured Drew Willy immediately following an interception by Joe Burnett. Montreal was at the Saskatchewan 31. Mathews avoided a blitz, threw the ball away, didn’t create a turnover and kept the visitors in field goal range.
On Mathews’s next possession, he completed a 47-yard pass to Chris Williams, although the drive produced only a single. Then, in the fourth quarter, Mathews directed the Als on two more scoring drives that ended in field goals after Saskatchewan narrowed its deficit to 17-15.
He completed eight of 12 passes for 98 yards in the Als’ 23-17 win.
“He’s pretty poised and went through his progressions pretty well,” head coach Mike Sherman said Wednesday, following practice indoors at Olympic Stadium. “That play he made that nobody probably wrote about. … We were in field goal range, he was scrambling to his right and threw the ball in the dirt. He didn’t take a sack. He could have thrown it back inside and tried to make a play. He didn’t do that.
“That was probably one of the best plays of the game. We got points as opposed to possibly getting sacked or throwing an interception.”
Mathews is expected to get the starting assignment Friday night when the Als host the Ottawa Redblacks. Montreal is seeking its first two-game winning streak since the end of the 2016 season, when the team won its final three games under Vernon Adams. Adams, who recently rejoined the Als following his release from Hamilton, could have a limited package of plays against Ottawa.
This marks Montreal’s final game before its first of three bye weeks in the schedule. And Mathews would certainly remain popular if the team enters its break with a 2-2 record as opposed to 1-3. The Als haven’t won at Molson Stadium since last Aug. 11.
“It’s a great opportunity (to play), but when it all comes down to it, it’s about our team getting back to 2-2,” Mathews said. “Regardless of who’s out there or what’s going on, we have to get to 2-2 having this bye week and feeling good about our chances.
“We took a big step last week. We have to take a bigger one this week. Whatever it means to any player, it means more to our team to get this thing back.”
Willy suffered a stinger against the Roughriders after getting hit by Charleston Hughes. With the Als next game only coming on July 21 in Calgary, it’s possible Willy might only miss Friday’s game. On the other hand, the potential starting job is there for Mathews’s taking, Sherman made it clear he doesn’t believe any starter is immune to losing his job simply because of an injury.
“I’m of the opinion the best guy starts,” he said.
Mathews had been the last starting quarterback to lose to Montreal. He played the first half of that Aug. 11 game, replacing the injured Ricky Ray. Mathews completed eight of 12 passes — just like last week — but generated only 67 yards. Head coach Marc Trestman benched him in favour of Cody Fajardo for the second half.
The Argonauts released Mathews on May 16, only four days before the start of training camp. Montreal signed him June 12. But it was a long month for the guy who graduated with a business degree from Cornell.
“I don’t know if there was concern, but it made me feel a certain type of way,” said the 6-foot-4, 225 pounder who’s reluctant to talk about himself. “The personal feelings, good or bad, are just a distraction. If someone likes you or doesn’t, you have to play well. It doesn’t matter. You focus on the things you can control. Make sure you make good decisions to help our team win.
“It hasn’t been the most ideal way to see your career going,” added the 26-year-old native of Camarillo, Calif. “I’m happy to be here, helping this team this week. I’m ready for that challenge. I’m ready to go out and help us get a win.”
Williams, for one, said he was impressed by the composure Mathews displayed and the way he took control of the huddle.
“When the quarterback comes in who hasn’t had a whole lot of experience and reps, to see him come in there with that confidence and command of the unit … everybody shut up and we listened to him. We got the job done,” Williams said. “He was very confident, sure of what he was doing.
“The main thing is he was confident. He made decisions. We can live with that.”
Meanwhile, offensive-tackle Phil Blake will miss the game with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He’ll be replaced by import Xavier Fulton. Also, Burnett, who has been bothered with a quad injury, missed Wednesday’s practice — one that ended with the team being addressed by players’ association executive-director Brian Ramsay.
The collective bargaining agreement expires next May.
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