Sunday's CFL game looked like a quarterback mismatch; the Ottawa Redblacks were going with reigning league Most Outstanding Player Henry Burris, a guy making his 224th career start in the league, while the Toronto Argonauts were forced to turn to Logan Kilgore, a guy who began the year as their third-stringer and was making his first career CFL start. Yet, it was Kilgore and the Argonauts who emerged victorious, picking up a 23-20 win on the strength of his arm, defensive back A.J. Jefferson's two interceptions, and Lirim Hajrullahu's perfect five-for-five performance on field goals. It's a win that should provide a lot of optimism for Toronto even while they're waiting for Ricky Ray's return, and one that adds further intrigue to the quarterbacking storylines in Ottawa.
Let's start with Kilgore, who turned in a remarkably-impressive showing for someone in his first start. Adjusting to the CFL often takes time, especially for quarterbacks given the 12 guys a side, the wider field, the three downs and the expanded motion, so it wouldn't have been surprising to see even a QB with big buzz around him struggle early. Kilgore didn't even have that, as "unheralded" is a good word to describe him. As of Sunday night, he didn't even have a Wikipedia entry:
Kilgore did have some things going for him, though. He shone in college at Middle Tennessee State, putting up the second-most passing yards (7,849) and the most passing touchdowns (53) in program history during his career there from 2011 to 2013, and he signed as an undrafted free agent with the NFL's New Orleans Saints in 2014. He also had significant experience in the Argos' system, at least in practice, as he's been with them since September 2014 (shortly after the Saints cut him). Beyond that, Argos' GM Jim Barker and head coach/offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich have shown a great ability to develop QBs, with the likes of Zach Collaros, Trevor Harris and Mitchell Gale all finding success with their team and elsewhere. Also, four QBs (including Harris and Gale) had received their first CFL start against the Redblacks before this, and all four had won, so history was on Kilgore's side.
The performance Kilgore put up Sunday was quite impressive. He threw for 322 yards and a touchdown, and while he did have two picks and only completed 59.5 per cent of his passes, that's a pretty good showing for someone in their first CFL start. He definitely outdueled Burris, who completed just 20 of 34 passes (58.8 per cent) for 218 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions (including the game-sealing pick). This was an emphatic performance, one that might have been channeling another Kilgore:
It wasn't all Kilgore, of course. The defence had a tremendous night, led by Jefferson's two picks and five tackles, Cory Greenwood's eight tackles, Ken Bishop's sack and forced fumble and T.J. Heath's interception. Hajrullahu was also dominant in the kicking game, making all five of his field-goal attempts (including the crucial game-winner from 53 yards out, which tied his career long) and averaging 47.2 yards on eight punts, bringing back memories of the anthem Bartley Kives once wrote for him while he was playing in Winnipeg:
Still, while this was a result that should bring plenty of hope to Toronto fans worried how their team would do without Ray (they'll still need Kilgore to improve his accuracy and reduce his turnovers, but this was a promising start), it's one that raises some concerns for Ottawa, and adds further drama to their quarterback situation. The 41-year-old Burris played so well last year and played well in this year's first game before leaving with an injury, but Trevor Harris stepped in brilliantly while he was out and put on one of the league's best showings at quarterback. If Harris hadn't been hurt last week, there were real questions about if Burris would get his spot back.
Harris is expected back within a month, but his return isn't imminent, so Burris may get at least one more chance to prove himself. Heading into this game, though, there weren't too many worries about the Redblacks' immediate quarterback situation with Burris under centre, and there were some thoughts that he might even be able to reclaim that spot long-term with some impressive showings. That's going to be much harder for him now. Don't count Burris out just yet, as he's overcome bad performances and people writing him off before, and this was just one game (and one where he might have had some understandable rust). He'll need to play much better than he did tonight to have a chance at holding that starting spot, though. The Redblacks will also need much more from him if they want to win some games before Harris returns.