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September 9, 2021

Cauz: Trevor Harris brought the magic to LD Weekend

Greg Flumes/CFL.ca

There were plenty of takeaways from this past Mark’s Labour Day Weekend (check out Pat Steinberg’s work here) that should make you excited for all three re-matches this week.

For me, what stood out the most was the performance by Trevor Harris. It wasn’t just his own statistics, 398 yards and four touchdowns with zero turnovers, that caught my attention. Or the fact that he finally recorded a win over the Calgary Stampeders breaking a 0-9-2 drought.

Quick aside, in those two ties Harris put up a combined 696 yards with six touchdowns, just two interceptions completing over 75% of his passes so really you can’t hang those two decisions on him.

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What fascinated me the most was how Harris looked chucking the ball on Labour Day Monday. He went full mad bomber, throwing deep, early and often, continually challenging the Stamps secondary. Harris has always been a productive passer but the one consistent nit-pick on Harris was the conservative nature of his game. Yes, you can be successful with the short pass, just look at the second half of Ricky Ray’s career but it requires such crazy precision with a low margin of error.

Back in 2019 after the regular season, I did a column ranking who was facing the most pressure going into the playoffs. Here is what I wrote about Harris:

“Harris still needs to prove he is more than a high-end game manager who can win your fantasy league. No quarterback plays a safer game than Harris who ranked last in pass depth and only Dane Evans had fewer passes of 20+ yards downfield.”

By the way, I met Harris at the Grey Cup in Calgary and he could not have been kinder. I immediately felt bad about this assessment and I hoped he never reads my work.

In Edmonton’s 32-20 win over Calgary, Harris was the exact opposite of everything I wrote in 2019 and I could not be more thrilled. The Elks offence had yet to get going after so many of us were predicting a season of fireworks. Edmonton had been averaging 15 points per game to start the season and Harris came into McMahon Stadium with twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2). Then the game started and everything seemed to change.

Midway in the first quarter Harris unleashed his first deep shot: a 45-yard touchdown to Ernest Edwards. There was no hesitancy from Harris. Two seconds after the snap Harris saw that Edwards had beaten the one-on-one coverage from DaShaun Amos and delivered a smooth rainbow right to his rookie receiver. Full marks to the Elks offensive line for neutralizing the five-man Calgary rush and to Edwards for creating all that open space for his quarterback.

The 27-yard catch by Greg Ellingson early in the second quarter is a perfect example of just how dangerous this Edmonton passing attack should be. Ellingson found a massive hole in the Stamps zone defence, the result of two Calgary defenders going after Derel Walker, who was running a short out pattern leaving Ellingson all alone. Like the Edwards touchdown, Harris was quick with his read as Calgary had to pick their poison about who to cover.

Soon after, it was Harris with another 40+ yard strike but this time it was to Mike Jones and it may have been the best throw of the day for the Edmonton quarterback. When you watch it live, it looks like the story of this big play is all about Mike Jones beating his man (tough day for DaShaun Amos) however the window to get the pass to Jones is really quite small as Jones was about to go out of bounds as the ball finds its target. This drive would end with a short touchdown toss to another rookie Jalen Tolliver. Full marks for Harris to be unaffected by a charging Shawn Lemon before releasing the ball.

 

I would write more about Harris’ 41-yard completion to Walker but that was more about Derel climbing up and physically manhandling Jonathan Moxey on his way to the reception. But what is noteworthy was this was another deep shot taken by a quarterback with a propensity for completing a high number of passes within 5-10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

The final pass I’ll highlight is the game clinching 52-yard touchdown to Jones giving Edmonton a 31-20 lead. Once again, the offensive line did their job keeping the blitzing Calgary defence at bay giving Harris the time to pump fake Jones wide open. This was both an aggressive play call and decision by Harris at a critical point late in the game. An overthrow would have put Jake Maier and the Stampeders offence in a great position to get the win.

Trevor Harris has thrown six touchdown passes in a playoff win over Hamilton and put up over 5,000 yards in a season but this may have been the best single game I’ve ever seen from Harris. With so many weapons at his disposal (big day from James Wilder Jr. as well) and an improving offensive line, Harris has a grand opportunity to change the narrative of his career and obliterate the idea of “high end game manager.”

One final thought about the upcoming re-match, don’t let the final score fool you, this game was much closer than the final 32-20 score would indicate. If Rene Parades had made that 48-yard field goal with around five minutes to go it would have been a 24-23 game and the final outcome may have been different.

Instead, Wilder rips off a tough 29-yard run to start the drive and soon after it’s that deep touchdown pass to Mike Jones and Edmonton breaks their Labour Day streak. Can’t wait for Saturday!

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