MONTREAL — With veteran Henry Burris at quarterback, maybe the Ottawa REDBLACKS won’t be quite the pushovers most expansion clubs have been.
Burris threw for 247 yards in one half of a game — on pace for a nearly 500-yard outing — as the REDBLACKS downed the Montreal Alouettes 26-10 in CFL pre-season play Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium.
Former Hamilton Tiger-Cat Chevon Walker ran in two touchdowns and caught a five-yard pass for another to lead the REDBLACKS, who will be on a bye when the regular season opens next weekend and won’t make their debut until July 3 in Winnipeg.
“We knew we had to play well,” said Burris, who signed as a free agent with Ottawa. “The fact that we don’t play next week, we had to have a good feeling coming out of this game because now we have a few days off.
“We know we made an improvement from last week (a 21-17 loss at Saskatchewan) and we wanted to carry the momentum of playing good football into the Winnipeg game in a couple of weeks.”
Brett Maher added a fourth-quarter field goal for Ottawa when Thomas DeMarco was in at quarterback.
The Ottawa defence held Montreal without a touchdown, although some of that had to do with Troy Smith’s struggles to find his receivers.
Delbert Alvarado had a pair of field goals and Sean Whyte had another for Montreal, which went 0-2 in the pre-season under new coach Tom Higgins, and looked shaky on both sides of the ball heading into their season opener June 28 in Calgary.
“It was definitely a pre-season game,” said Smith, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner who has the tall order of replacing future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo as the Alouettes starting quarterback. “You understand things aren’t going to be as good as you want them to be all the time.
“We did some positive things, we just weren’t able to capitalize on any drives.”
The crowd of 18,141 got their first look at former NFL star Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson, who is on a comeback after last having played in 2011. He made a 13-yard catch on the Alouettes’ first play from scrimmage but that was all.
“Hopefully the timing with the guys will get better,” said Smith. “You’ve got to give Ottawa some credit. They played defence and came out with the win. It’s very premature. We’re embarking on something great. I can feel it in my bones. But you have to go through trials and tribulations.”
A lot of Ottawa players made it difficult for coach Rick Campbell to make his final cuts on Saturday, when all nine CFL teams have to trim rosters to 46 players. Burris had six players make at least two catches, while the defence held Montreal to 290 yards in net offence.
“When the decisions are easy, it’s not good,” said Campbell. “We had some guys make some big plays, but it is a pre-season game. We’ll watch film and evaluate it.
“We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back too much. We’ll get back to work and try to get better.”
Burris couldn’t get a first down on Ottawa’s first three possessions, but adjustments were made. Then he couldn’t be stopped the rest of the first half. He completed 17 of 22 passes, all against Montreal’s first-string defence. The REDBLACKS led 22-7 at the intermission.
Smith completed nine of 17 for 122 yards in the opening 30 minutes and gave way to the equally ineffective Tanner Marsh early in the second half. Alex Brink also saw action.
The Alouettes got on the board first with Alvarado’s punt single, but then Burris threw 28 yards to Dobson Collins to set up Walker’s three-yard TD 12:16 into the game.
Montreal answered with a field goal, but Kierrie Johnson’s 36-yard catch to the Montreal one set up Walker’s second TD of the night 44 seconds into the second quarter.
Just before the intermission, Burris led an eight-play 85-yard drive capped by Walker’s five-yard TD catch.
With second and third stringers on in the second half, neither team was able to move the ball very far and spectators were streaming out by the end of the third quarter.
Unusually for the pre-season game, there were relatively few penalties called and there were no fumbles or interceptions.
Last week, Montreal blew a lead in a 28-23 setback at Hamilton.
Their bright spots were Alvarado’s powerful kicking and some long returns by Larry Taylor, who returned to Montreal from Calgary in the off-season.