MONTREAL — After 16 CFL seasons, quarterback Anthony Calvillo only needs a few minutes of exhibition play to get ready for another campaign.
So the 37-year-old was sent in only for the Montreal Alouettes’ two opening drives and capped his appearance with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Ben Cahoon in a 31-23 victory over the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday afternoon.
Then he turned the ball over to his understudies, Adrian McPherson and Chris Leak, who each had a TD pass of his own in a game that was all Montreal until the rain-soaked fourth quarter.
It was the first game played at the newly expanded Percival Molson Stadium. A crowd of 23,112 turned out to the now 25,012-seat facility, up about 5,000 seats from last season.
“The coach (Marc Trestman) tells me I’ll play as long as he feels comfortable,” said Calvillo. “After being with him the last two years, I know what that means — I’m not going to be playing very long.
“I knew what to expect, but I was happy we were able to get two scoring opportunities. We had a field goal miss and then we were able to get a touchdown. So I’m happy with that.”
Calvillo only played part of one quarter during pre-season a year ago and then went on to win a second CFL outstanding player award in a row, leading the Alouettes to a team record 15-3 mark and the second Grey Cup of his career.
“Physically, I felt great coming out of camp last year and I feel great again this year, so that’s always a positive sign,” he added.
Calvillo completed eight of 10 passes for 81 years and left after his TD strike to Cahoon 8:02 into the game.
McPherson, his backup the last two seasons, was only 7-for-20 and had a pass picked off, but he also threw a five-yard TD strike to Danny Desriveaux. Third-stringer Leak was good on nine of 14 passes for 97 yards and hit newcomer Tim Maypray for a 24-yard TD early in the fourth quarter.
The bottom line was that Montreal looks to be in fine shape at quarterback going into the regular season.
“I thought Adrian did some good things and Chris did as well,” said Trestman, whose specialty was working with quarterbacks through a long NFL career before joining Montreal as head coach for the 2008 season. “It’s difficult when you’re working with interspersed guys you don’t work with in practice, but they both did well.”
It was a more pivotal game for the two who are trying to win the starting job in Toronto — Cleo Lemon and Dalton Bell. When it was over, coach Jim Barker was left with a tough call to make.
Lemon played the first half and did not put a point on the board, although it didn’t help that the snap was dropped on a field goal attempt for one of eight Toronto turnovers.
The six-year NFL veteran completed seven of 16 passes for 58 yards, but moved the ball better with his feet, gaining 45 yards on five carries. He was picked off once.
Bell came in at half time and was 11 for 16 with a 15-yard TD pass to Brandon Rideau. He generally moved the ball better, although he played against more back-ups and threw two interceptions.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Bell. “It’s out of my control.
“I’m a man of faith and I put those kind of things in the good lord’s hands and let him iron it out. I’m not worried about it. I know I did my best.”
One player who went a long way to securing his spot was running back Cory Boyd, who carried 15 times for 147 yards and a late TD on a two-yard plunge. He also caught two passes.
An interesting note for Montreal was that the three players listed in departed cornerback Davis Sanchez’ spot each had an interception — Alex Chandler, Paul Woldu and the uniquely named Sir Snowden.
One who impressed both Calvillo and Trestman was Maypray, who led the team with four catches for 54 yards, while Desriveaux also caught four for 38 yards.
And Chad Owens, looking to replace the departed Larry Taylor on kick returns, had one impressive 26-yard punt return up the middle and looked solid, although Trestman said he is still deciding who will get that job. With Andrew Hawkins injured, slotback Brian Bratton also returns kicks and the coach said cornerback De’Audra Dix is also in the picture.
There is also a battle on the offensive line. With Bryan Chiu’s retirement, veteran Paul Lambert moved from guard to centre. The fight for the starting left guard’s spot is on between Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, Andrew Woodruff and Dylan Steenbergen.
Both teams ended their exhibition schedule with 1-1 records. Montreal lost 34-10 last week in Winnipeg with most of their veterans not in the lineup, while Toronto won 13-10 at home over Hamilton.
On the first play of the second quarter, Chandler picked off a Lemon pass and returned it 78 yards to the Toronto eight-yard line. Gambling on third and goal from the five-yard line, McPherson hit Desriveaux for a 14-0 lead.
Owens’ punt return set up Damon Duval’s 45-yard field goal at 6:21 and a fumbled punt by Toronto’s Denatay Heard allowed Duval to hit another from 22 yards out to end the first half.
Bell opened the second half under centre for Toronto and was picked off by Snowden, which led to a 43-yard Duval boot at 8:54 of the third. Leak hit Maypray with a 24-yard scoring toss 2:56 into the fourth.
The Argos came straight back and were at the Montreal 10-yard line, but Bell’s pass was picked off by Woldu.
Percival Molson Stadium, refurbished and expanded for $29 million, looked impressive with a new deck over the south grandstands blending with the older section as though they’ve always been there, and new permanent seats replacing bleachers in the east end zone.
Only a handful of trees were sacrificed behind the east end zone, but others were planted outside the stadium. The Als will play their first three regular-season games on the road to allow finishing touches to be completed. Their home opener is July 22 against Hamilton.