Drew Tate loves Toronto

Stampeders quarterback Drew Tate throws against the Alouettes at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta.,...

Stampeders quarterback Drew Tate throws against the Alouettes at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta., July 3, 2012. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:21 AM ET

TORONTO - Dating back to its days as SkyDome, Rogers Centre hasn’t been kind to the Calgary Stampeders.

Try telling that to the new quarterback.

It was at Rogers Centre, remember, that Drew Tate unceremoniously swiped the starting QB job from Henry Burris last October, relieving the struggling gunslinger at halftime and piecing together a spirited comeback with 20 consecutive points.

Toronto Argonauts kicker Noel Prefontaine eventually spoiled the feel-good story with a last-second field-goal, and the hosts won the game.

But Tate won the starting job.

“I’ll never forget that,” the Stamps quarterback said Friday in Toronto.

“I came in, and it just felt like it was the spark that we needed at the time. It just didn’t end the way you would hope, but I think it catapulted us for the rest of the season and then, personally, for my career.”

On Saturday (1 p.m., TSN, QR77), Tate will return to the same slab of turf, a place where the Stamps have lost two in a row and have a woeful 3-9 record in the 21st Century.

The 27-year-old Texan wasn’t exactly an unknown commodity on the Stamps’ most recent roadie to Toronto, but there’s no doubt that 31-29 loss Oct. 14, 2011, marked a turning point for both the past and present face of the franchise.

Burris was awful, completing just a half-dozen of 11 passing attempts and getting picked off twice.

Tate, meanwhile, finished 19-of-28 for 263 yards and two touchdown strikes.

Although the Stamps waited a couple of days to officially anoint the former University of Iowa Hawkeyes signal-caller as their starter going forward, fans at Rogers Centre and TSN viewers across the country probably knew it was a done deal even before Prefontaine booted an 18-yarder for the win.

“You guys saw him for the first time, but I’d been seeing Drew do that for many years on scout team — just doing his thing and making the team look good. That’s Drew Tate,” said Stamps running back Jon Cornish.

“And for me, knowing he’s our quarterback going out there (Saturday), I don’t really think we’ll have a Toronto experience similar to the last few years.”

There won’t be a repeat performance of last time.

Can’t be.

After Friday’s walkthrough at the University of Toronto, Argos head coach Scott Milanovich had only positive things to say about Tate, praising his decision-making abilities and noting he “has a will to win that kind of permeates throughout the offence and throughout the team.”

If that’s the way the opposing sideline boss is talking, you can bet Tate won’t catch anybody by surprise this time.

“There’s more pressure on him now because he’s the guy and people expect a lot more from him,” said Stamps receiver Johnny Forzani.

“If you’ve ever been a backup, you understand that when you get a chance, you almost have no pressure. What’s the worst that happens? You go back to being a backup? But when you get promoted and you get branded a starter, the stakes are risen.”

The added pressure doesn’t seem to bother Tate.

He’s now won four consecutive regular-season starts — including the home-opener last week against the Montreal Alouettes — and has a firm grip on the Stamps’ No.-1 job.

That second-half performance against the Argos was the start of something good, even if somebody else started the game.

“It just re-emphasized what I had observed before — that when he got into games, he made things happen,” recalled Stamps head coach John Hufnagel.

“He came on the field, was very productive, got us in scoring position and kind of got us back in the game.

“I think, any time that you’re a quarterback and you go on the field and you can move the chains and put points on the board, you’re going in the right direction. You have to feel good about yourself.”

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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