MONTREAL, Quebec – Montreal Alouettes coach Tom Higgins had a hunch and after losing his first two quarterbacks in the opening game of the season, Higgins decided to follow his gut and give former Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato his first professional start, against the defending Grey Cup Champions, Calgary Stampeders.
Cato did not disappoint.
Cato completed 20-of-25 pass attempts for 241 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in his first professional football game. Marshall’s most prolific passer was even trending on Twitter in the United States and Canada during the Alouettes first win of the season.
After losing his top two quarterbacks during last week’s loss, Higgins alternated between Cato, and Canadian quarterback Brandon Bridge during practice leading into Friday’s game.
“It was just a gut feeling. You decide and stick with it,” head coach Tom Higgins said. “Calgary didn’t know what to expect – and neither did we.”
The gameplan was to use both Cato and Bridge during the game, unless one quarterback got hot. Cato was on fire from the start going a perfect 7-for-7 with a touchdown pass on his opening drive. Bridge would only see the field on short yardage situations, using his 6-foot-5 frame for quarterback sneaks.
“I’m proud of the way I played,” Cato said after the 29-11 win over Calgary. “I had fun, played fast and took advantage of what the defense was giving me. I have things I have to improve on, like my huddle calls and getting the plays right. But I didn’t force anything.”
Montreal’s offense clicked with Cato at the helm gathering 22 first downs and 393 total yards, this following last week’s game that saw three quarterbacks combine for 113 yards and two interceptions, completing just 35.7 percent of pass attempts. Montreal also recorded a league low 188 yards of offense the week before Cato’s debut.
“He displayed poise and was amazing. I knew he could do this from the moment he threw his first ball at training camp,” praised Montreal receiver Nik Lewis.
While some north of the border where surprised by Cato’s debut performance, it was not a shock to Herd fans who traded their kelly green for Alouette red, white and blue Friday night. They took to Twitter to show their support of Cato even had Cato trending during the game in both the United States and Canada.
— Paulo Senra (@paulosenra) July 4, 2015
Starter Jonathan Crompton is scheduled to be back from injury in a few weeks, but Cato could make Higgins decision more difficult if he continues to perform like he did Friday night.
Montreal plays at Winnipeg next week. The game will be televised on ESPN2.