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MONTREAL — Zach Collaros had a number of memorable plays Sunday, but one stood out for him.
“The pick,” Saskatchewan’s quarterback said after the Roughriders’ 34-29 CFL victory over the Montreal Alouettes. “You always remember your bad beats, right? Isn’t that what they say in poker?
It says something about Collaros’ competitive streak that he selected the one blemish in a performance that was otherwise nearly flawless.
“He does a great job of leading our football team…”
The interception he threw occurred early in the fourth quarter with Saskatchewan leading 31-23. The Roughriders had a first down at the Montreal 19-yard line and were poised to make the game a two-score affair when a Collaros pass was tipped into the air and picked off by linebacker Henoc Muamba.
Four plays later, Johnny Manziel threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ernest Jackson that cut the Roughriders’ advantage to 31-29. A two-point convert attempt failed and Saskatchewan held the lead the rest of the way.
As a result, Collaros improved to 7-3-0 as Saskatchewan’s starting quarterback this season.
“He does a great job of leading our football team,” Roughriders head coach-GM Chris Jones said. “There’s a couple of those throws we’d like back — and he’ll tell you the same thing — but certainly he’s a great leader and our guys believe in him.”
Centre Dan Clark agreed with Jones.
“I can’t say enough about (Collaros),” Clark said. “He’s a team-first guy and he’s definitely somebody you want behind you.”
The Roughriders acquired Collaros from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Jan. 3, sending a second-round pick (10th overall) in the 2018 draft to Hamilton for the seventh-year CFLer.
He started and won Saskatchewan’s regular-season opener, but was knocked out of the Roughriders’ second game with head and neck issues that sidelined him for the rest of that contest and for the next four as well.
He returned for Saskatchewan’s game against the Edmonton Eskimos on Aug. 2 — and he has been a fixture behind centre ever since. The Roughriders are 6-2-0 since he returned.
Collaros’ showing Sunday was his most impressive of the season. He set season highs in pass attempts (41), completions (29) and passing yards (394) and helped the Roughriders score four offensive touchdowns in a game for the first time in 2018.
Judging by his success Sunday in the short and intermediate passing game, it’s apparent that he’s becoming more comfortable in the offence.
“As the season goes along, for everybody, the game kind of slows down just because it’s experience — you’ve been out there,” Collaros said. “The beginning of the season is always moving fast because you haven’t played in a long time in live competition (and it’s) between that and getting used to what we try to do in this offence.
“Guys are playing well around me. Quarterbacks get a lot of the praise, but our offensive line has done an unreal job the entire season, especially since I’ve been back. The running game has been great and obviously the receivers have as well.”
Collaros had one passing touchdown Sunday — a 23-yarder to Kyran Moore — but he very nearly had three. Video reviews were needed to determine that Shaq Evans and Jordan Williams-Lambert were tackled at the Als’ one-yard line after catching passes from Collaros.
The 394 passing yards in the game were the most by a single Saskatchewan quarterback since Darian Durant threw for 399 yards against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sept. 4, 2016. Kevin Glenn (327) and Brandon Bridge (67) combined to throw for 394 yards in a game Sept. 9, 2017, against the Bombers.
On Sunday, Collaros had a 300-yard passing game for the first time since July 15, 2017, when he had 361 against the B.C. Lions while playing for Hamilton.
“I could care less about 300-yard games,” he said. “The arbitrary number of 300 means absolutely nothing. I just want to win games.”
The offence did its part to help Saskatchewan win Sunday, rolling up season highs in first downs (32), net yards (502) and time of possession (35 minutes 20 seconds).
Moore (nine catches, 126 yards) and Evans (six receptions, 114 yards) both went over the century mark in receiving yards and tailbacks Tre Mason (13 carries, 86 yards) and Marcus Thigpen (four rushes, 19 yards) combined to rush for more than 100 yards.
The offence also successfully killed the game’s final three minutes, running nine plays for 39 yards and gaining three first downs to end the contest.
Still, Collaros had his concerns.
“We still have a lot of plays to be made out there that we left out there,” he said. “Obviously critiquing the film is easier after a win, but I’m happy to get out of here with one.”
With Sunday’s victory, Saskatchewan improved to 9-5-0 and has a solid grasp on second place in the West Division. The Bombers and Eskimos are next in line at 7-7-0 — and Winnipeg currently owns the tiebreaking edge on Edmonton in that race.
The Eskimos are the Roughriders’ next opponent, visiting Mosaic Stadium on Oct. 8 for a game with major playoff implications.
“It’s a good feeling being able to control your own destiny from a standpoint of making the playoffs,” Collaros said. “Right now at this moment, we control our own destiny of getting a home playoff game. But we still have four games left and the next one is against a very good opponent.”