MONTREAL - In one toss, Matt Nichols was able to do what starting quarterback Kerry Joseph wasn’t in 19 attempts — score a touchdown.
The backup got the Edmonton Eskimos back in Sunday’s game against the Montreal Alouettes with his first snap five minutes into the fourth quarter.
It went to all-star receiver Fred Stamps, who turned it into his longest gain of the season, a 95-yarder for a touchdown that cued a comeback effort and was just 11 yards shy of the 116 passing yards the Eskimos offence managed over the first 50 minutes of the game.
While it closed the 20-4 gap the Alouettes built over the first three quarters, Nichols said it only looked easy.
“That’s just one of those broken plays that turned into a good one for us,” said the third-year pivot with one start to his name. “We were calling a receiver screen to the right, it was supposed to be a quick-hitter.
“They covered it up pretty well, so I scrambled around and Fred had a go route on the backside and, right before I got hit, I just kind of saw him cutting across the field for me.”
After hitting Marcus Henry for the two-point conversion, Nichols cut Montreal’s 16-point lead in half, only to give up an interception on his next series.
But he remained unfazed, even after Anthony Calvillo threw a touchdown to an offensive lineman at the other end of the field to lead 27-12 with three-and-a-half minutes remaining.
On the strength of a rejuvenated effort from his defence, who continued to put the ball back in his hands, Nichols followed up with a six-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Shamawd Chambers and found Stamps in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game with nothing but zeros left on the clock.
While the two-point conversion aimed at slotback Cary Koch fell incomplete, Nichols at least gave the Eskimos a chance to go to overtime.
“We just turned it on a bit too late,” said Nichols, who seemingly single-handedly solved the riddle of an Alouettes club that has stymied the Eskimos in their last four visits to Molson Stadium by a combined score of 184-64 — a ratio of nearly 3:1.
But his first trip ended in Nichols completing nine of 15 attempts for 230 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
So, what’s the secret?
“Especially when you’re not expecting to go in, you don’t have too much time to overthink,” Nichols offered. “You’re probably a lot more relaxed and when you’re first play’s a big touchdown, it’s easy to settle in for the rest of the game.”
One, perhaps, can be chalked up to luck. But coming in cold and firing three touchdowns is something else, entirely.
“Obviously, you can say I threw three touchdowns, but that third one to Fred was all Fred Stamps,” Nichols said, pointing out the defensive formations he faced coming in two scores down was different than what Joseph saw up to that point. “We have a lot of playmakers here and they’re going to continue to make plays and hopefully make a few more this week.”
IN AND OUT: FB Mathieu Bertrand and CB Rod Williams underwent concussion protocol after taking trauma to the head Sunday ... LT Orrin Thompson appeared to have re-aggravated a knee injury sustained the week prior against the B.C. Lions, where he was also forced from the game early ... Linebacker T.J. Hill played through a knee hyperextension.