For the Hamilton Tiger Cats’ Dave Stala, Saturday’s game represents a homecoming of sorts.
An alumnus of St. Mary’s University in Halifax, the veteran wide receiver is heading back to the Maritimes to play against the Montreal Alouettes in Moncton on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s always a treat coming back to the East Coast,” Stala told CBC Moncton’s Information Morning on Wednesday.
This is the third time the CFL has a special Touchdown Atlantic contest in Moncton. Stala played in one of the previous matches, and said the experience was exciting for the players on the field.
'I always say we do need a football team out on the East Coast.' - Dave Stala, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
“I didn’t expect the atmosphere and all the fans to come out,” he said. “But they make it an event. It’s not just a football game.”
Stala said he believe there is enough appetite for professional football in the Maritimes to justify a CFL expansion team for the region.
“I always say we do need a football team out on the East Coast,” he said. “I think the fans are loyal enough and nice enough that I’d think they’d support it.
“I don’t know if it matters if it’s in Moncton or Halifax, as long as it’s on the East Coast.”
Montreal shuffles QBs
Coming off a 26-22 loss against the Calgary Stampeders last weekend, Stala and the Tiger-Cats will face off for the first time this season against their East Division foes the Montreal Alouettes.
Hamilton (5-6) currently sits in second place just ahead of Montreal (4-7).
Incumbent Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo has been out since suffering a concussion last month and backup Tanner Marsh sprained his thumb against B.C.
Sophomore QB Neiswander got the start Aug. 22 against the Lions but was replaced by Marsh, who rallied Montreal to the stunning 39-38 and secured the No. 1 job. Neiswander has been tapped to helm the Als for Saturday's game.
Montreal had only two practices this week but the six-foot-two, 212-pound Neiswander is ready for the challenge.
"Football is a team sport, it really has more to do with us than it has to do with me," he said. "I've been comfortable with the playbook the entire year.
"We've made some route adjustments to keep us quarterbacks and receivers on the same page."
The Touchdown Atlantic event wasn't held last season due to the year-long celebration of the 100th Grey Cup.
"It's really exciting to be playing in a new place that we haven't been at before for people to see the CFL who may not normally get to see it," Neiswander said.
When Marsh was hurt last week, former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith took over for a few running plays. He gave way to Neiswander, who finished 14-of-23 passing for 153 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
Jim Popp, Montreal's GM and interim head coach, said it was an easy decision to sit the injured Marsh in favour of Neiswander.
"The biggest thing is to make sure his (Marsh) thumb heals properly," he said.
Popp added Marsh could tolerate the pain and might've been able to play but the risk wasn't worth it.
"He's too young and has too much left in his career," he said. "We're always looking at things long-term, not short-term so we're always going to do what's right for him and for our organization."
By comparison, Hamilton starter Henry Burris has registered three straight 300-yard passing contests. In last weekend's 26-22 road loss to Calgary, Burris became just the fifth player in league history to surpass the 50,000-yard plateau.
'We don't care where we play:' Burris
He remains 343 yards shy of passing former Ticats head coach Ron Lancaster for fourth on the CFL's all-time list. Hamilton, which has played all of its home games in Guelph, Ont., while its new stadium is being built, will be the home squad for this contest.
"We've travelled to every home game," Burris said. "This is no different for us.
"We don't care where we play — we just say turn on the lights, get the people in the stands and let's play some football."
Burris, who's also fifth all-time in pass completions and fourth in career touchdown passes, says his teammates are excited to be playing in Eastern Canada.
"Guys were pulling up and seeing all the stands surrounding the field and saw the grass field — this is what football is all about," he said. "You saw all the young guys getting excited and this is a game they'll never forget."