MONTREAL — Even after 92 games and six seasons in the CFL, Cody Fajardo had nerves playing in front of Alouettes fans in the pre-season for the first time as Montreal’s starting quarterback.
“I'm always nervous,” said Fajardo. “It's professional football, it's something you love to do. You want to make your family proud, you want to make your team proud, your fans proud.”
Fajardo threw an early touchdown pass in the Alouettes' 25-22 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday in front of 12,698 fans at Molson Stadium.
Montreal improved to 2-0 in pre-season play with most of its starters playing for the first time. Hamilton, which left most of its regular starters at home, fell to 1-1.
Fajardo signed with the Alouettes from Saskatchewan as a free agent this off-season to replace Trevor Harris. In one-and-a-half quarters of play, he went 7-for-14 for 77 yards and a touchdown pass.
“Obviously you want to be a little bit more efficient as a quarterback completion percentage-wise,” he said. “I wish I would have played a little bit more but you understand you've got to evaluate other guys as well. But the real thing starts from here on out. Now it's time to go.”
It was the final pre-season game for both sides — a last chance for players to make an impression before Saturday's 10 p.m. ET deadline for teams to submit their final roster cuts.
With Fajardo locked in as the starter, one of head coach Jason Maas’s big decisions is choosing who will back him up.
Caleb Evans also threw for 77 yards on 7-of-14 completions, while Davis Alexander went 7-of-11 for 88 yards in a battle for the backup QB spot.
Maas was impressed with Alexander’s play in particular.
“I think Davis did a very nice job tonight, with his feet, moving the ball, and the toughness that he displays is very prevalent. He's a gamer,” said Maas. “Now that's not to say nothing about Caleb, because Caleb I think had a very strong camp.
"I definitely think we've got two guys that we can win with if something were to go (happen) with Cody and I think every team in the league wants that.”
Alouettes starting running back William Stanback, making his pre-season debut, ran for 25 yards on four attempts.
With both Greg Ellingson and Tyson Philpot out, Quartney Davis led the Montreal receivers with 56 yards on four receptions.
Matthew Shiltz started at quarterback for the Ticats with new QB Bo Levi Mitchell not in action.
Shiltz, who’s a lock to play behind Mitchell to start the season, dominated in the first half, going 12-of-16 for 162 yards and two touchdowns before giving way to Eastern Michigan University product Taylor Powell.
“Matt's a true professional,” said Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer. “I can't say enough great things about him as a person and his quarterbacking is more than adequate. We're very fortunate to have him.”
Hamilton opened the scoring at 11:54 of the first quarter on an 18-yard field goal from Jonathan Garibay after Shiltz made a 50-yard run on the third snap of the game to set it up.
Montreal replied on the next possession when Fajardo found Kaion Julien-Grant in the end zone at 6:44 to give the Alouettes a 7-3 lead. Hamilton cut the deficit with a touchback.
The Ticats broke through with their first touchdown of the game at 9:17 of the second quarter after Shiltz connected with Richie Sindani, giving Hamilton an 11-7 lead.
Alouettes kicker David Cote hit back-to-back field goals four minutes apart, making the score 13-11 Montreal.
Hamilton wasted little time taking the lead back. Receiver Terry Godwin made a one-handed grab on a 49-yard bomb from Shiltz. The two connected again on the next play for a touchdown to give the Ticats an 18-13 lead at 1:44.
Walter Fletcher then ran for a three-yard touchdown, which gave Montreal a 19-18 lead heading into halftime.
Jose Maltos kicked two field goals in the fourth to increase the Alouettes lead to six.
Hamilton's Ethan Ratke kicked a field goal from 43 yards at 5:01 to cut the deficit to three, but Montreal held on.
The Tiger-Cats kick off their regular season on the road next Friday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, followed by the Alouettes hosting the Ottawa Redblacks in their opener on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press