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Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, right, and the Montreal Alouettes proved too elusive for the B.C. Lions on Thursday night. ((Graham Hughes/Canadian Press))

Anthony Calvillo is clearly feeling just fine.

The veteran quarterback showed no effects from off-season thyroid surgery as he delivered three first-half touchdown passes and the Alouettes began their defence of the Grey Cup with a 30-26 victory over the B.C. Lions in the opening game of the CFL season on Thursday night.

Calvillo, who had his thyroid removed after a cancerous lesion was discovered on the gland, completed 22 of 30 passes for 312 yards and said he felt no ill effects.

"I felt great coming into this game," said the 38-year-old whose is chasing a few all-time CFL records in his 18th season. "I was ready to focus and felt comfortable out there.

"We were rolling pretty good, but in the second half we didn't do a god job. We had a couple of mental breakdowns and we were second and long a lot. But the defence held. It was a team victory."

Jamel Richardson caught nine passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, while S.J. Green had a TD catch among his 88 yards through the air. Former Lion Sean Whyte added three field goals for the two-time defending champion Montreal.

Akeem Foster had a touchdown, Tim Brown returned a punt for a TD and Paul McCallum had four field goals for the Lions, who trailed 27-10 at half time but stormed back in the second half.

The victory was costly for Montreal as veteran defensive back Jerald Brown was carted off the field and taken to hospital with a fractured right ankle.

"He probably has a season-ending injury," said coach Marc Trestman. "He will have surgery [Friday].

"He's been so special to our team and we'll have to do without him. We'll lose a leader, one of the highest quality players in the league, an all-star, a team leader."

Despite two top teams and cool but comfortable summer night, the crowd was announced at 22,317 for the 25,012-seat Percival Molson Stadium — the first time Montreal has not sold out since June 25, 2002, which was also against B.C. It ended a string of 105 straight sellouts.

The Lions defence held Montreal to three second-half points, but couldn't climb all the way back.

"The first half put us way behind the 8-ball," said Lions coach Wally Buono. "The Alouettes are way too good to give them that kind of lead.

"I don't know that we changed what we did [in the second half]. Maybe we just did a little better job. A.C. [Calvillo] is good at what he does and if he gets into a rhythm he'll eat you up. In the first half we let him do that and he was outplaying us, outguessing us."

Calvillo went for the long ball, hitting Green for a 51-yard score 3:21 into the game and adding TD tosses of 40 and 46 yards to Richardson in the second quarter.

Record pursuits

He is now only five short of tying Damon Allen's career record of 394 career TD passes. The 18-year veteran began the game only 4,200 yards short of Allen's career passing yards mark and should pass him late in this season if he stays healthy.

Travis Lulay was effective moving the ball upfield for B.C., but many drives stalled in Montreal territory, mainly from overthrown passes. He finished 26 for 45 for 366 yards.

The Lions got the ball to the Montreal two-yard line on their opening drive of the second half, but Jarious Jackson came in at QB and was sacked. Lulay then just missed Nick Moore in the end zone. They settled for a field goal.

Seven minutes later, Brown zig-zagged untouched up the middle to return a punt 97 yards for a TD to cut the Montreal lead to seven points.

The teams traded field goals and the Lions had chances, but managed only one last McCallum placement with just over two minutes to play. Montreal then ran out the clock.

Tailback Brandon Whitaker, replacing Avon Cobourne who signed with Hamilton, rushed for 119 yards on 17 carries in what may have been a statement game aimed at those who doubted his ability to fill the job.

"If they compare me to [Cobourne] I must be doing something good," said Whitaker. "Avon's a great back and I learned a lot from him the last few years.

"I'm glad we got a win. The O-line did some great blocking. I just had to do my job."

It was a big game for B.C. veteran Geroy Simon as well, as he caught five passes for 115 yards. Simon moved past Terry Vaughn into fourth place all-time in receiving yards with 13,852. He has a shot at catching Milt Stegall's career mark of 15,153 this season.

When Brown was injured, Jeff Hecht, signed as an undrafted free agent in May from St. Mary's, took over that spot.

The Edmonton native took an off-side penalty at one point, but he also delivered an early candidate for hit of the year when he levelled Jon Hameister-Ries during a missed field goal return in the second quarter.

"I just lined it up perfectly and gave it everything I could," said Hecht. "It was a rush [to play] that's for sure.

"My legs were numb the first series and then I settled in. We've got a lot of veteran guys and they helped me a lot. I got in there a lot sooner than I thought."