CFL Pass

Vanstone: Zach will be back in Regina for West final

The “Bo Show” was a no-show in Saskatchewan.

Although the Saskatchewan Roughriders aggressively wooed quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell with a $700,000-per-year contract offer on Day 1 of the CFL’s free-agency period, he ultimately opted to re-sign with the Calgary Stampeders on Feb. 12.

Plan B for the Roughriders was oft-concussed Zach Collaros, whose return to the Green and White wasn’t exactly greeted with the blaring of trumpets.

While Riderville was still abuzz about the courtship of Mitchell and the new deal with Collaros, first-year general manager and vice-president of football operations Jeremy O’Day signed a quarterback named Cody Fajardo, whose addition was a footnote.

Nothing, as it turned out, really went according to plan.

The Roughriders had sought to make Mitchell, a CFL superstar, the highest-paid player in franchise history. No such luck.

Collaros, who was next in line, suffered another concussion just three plays into the June 13 opener against the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Uh oh …

Quickly elevated into a front-line role was Fajardo, who had been expected to assume his usual role as a backup — with a sprinkling of short-yardage plays included in his repertoire.

Not even five minutes into the regular season, everything was thrown into chaos.

And for the Roughriders — and even for Collaros — it all worked out beautifully.

Fajardo quickly became a sensation in the Rider Nation, earning West Division most-outstanding-player honours and a lucrative contract extension.

Collaros was deemed expendable by the Roughriders, who dealt him to the Toronto Argonauts on July 31. He never played a down for Toronto before being dispatched to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Oct. 9.

The latter deal had barely been consummated when some commentators began to ruminate about the possibility of one of those “only in the CFL …” stories.

What if Collaros were to quarterback the Blue Bombers in a playoff game, against the team with which he began the season, at Mosaic Stadium?

That will indeed be part of the storyline — in a high-stakes game replete with scrumptious subplots — on Sunday when the first-place Roughriders entertain Winnipeg in the West Division final.

With Collaros starting at quarterback this past weekend, the third-place Blue Bombers upset the second-seeded Stampeders 35-14 at McMahon Stadium.

Collaros completed 11 of 21 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown — a 71-yard payoff pitch to Darvin Adams.

The passing stats were modest, but Collaros managed the game adroitly and eschewed turnovers, whereas Calgary relinquished the football four times.

As a complement to Collaros, Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice deployed quarterback Chris Streveler to considerable effect.

The rap against Streveler is that he isn’t exactly Peyton Manning, or even Preston Manning, when it comes to throwing the football.

Simple solution: Don’t ask Streveler to throw the football. Brilliant!

Playing with a foot injury of undetermined but undeniable severity, Streveler was in the game for 23 snaps — thanks to the Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman for the stat — and did not attempt a single pass.

Instead, Streveler rushed 13 times for a game-high 82 yards, including a 24-yard TD scamper that effectively punched the Blue Bombers’ ticket to Regina.

The accomplished Mitchell, meanwhile, endured a miserable outing. He completed just 12 of 28 passes for 116 yards, with one TD and three interceptions.

His quarterback-efficiency rating: 22.3.

It was yet another unexpected turn in the West’s quarterbacking picture.

Not so long ago, the Bombers’ season appeared to be sunk after starting pivot Matt Nichols suffered a shoulder injury that necessitated surgery.

It seemed that Streveler would be at the controls of the Winnipeg offence for as far as it could go.

Then Collaros arrived, prompting questions about whether it was advisable for him to continue playing, considering his history of concussions.

But now, Collaros is the healthier of the starting quarterbacks as the West final approaches.

Fajardo was forced to miss the Roughriders’ regular-season finale due to an oblique injury. In his absence, rookie Isaac Harker started at quarterback and helped Saskatchewan clinch first place by defeating the visiting Edmonton Eskimos 23-13 on Nov. 2.

Now that the Roughriders have enjoyed the unaccustomed luxury of a first-round playoff bye, it will soon be time for the resumption of the all-consuming Fajardo Watch — something that was utterly unimaginable back in February.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

Source: montrealgazette.com