It was another terrific audition for Trevor Harris.
The rookie quarterback came off the bench to throw two second-half touchdown passes and rally the Toronto Argonauts to a 25-20 exhibition CFL win over the Montreal Alouettes on Tuesday afternoon.
Harris, vying for the No. 3 job behind Argos veterans Ricky Ray and Jarious Jackson, capped a 93-yard march by hitting Samie Parker on a five-yard TD strike 21 seconds into the fourth to put Toronto ahead 25-17.
He pulled Toronto into a 17-17 tie with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Jessie Hubbard early in the third before Anthony Alix's single at 9:20.
"Trevor seems to have some moxy, a presence back there and a little bit of the 'it' factor," said Argos rookie head coach Scott Milanovich, himself a former quarterback who played in both the CFL and NFL. "He has done it two weeks in a row, which is impressive.
"He seems very comfortable in the pocket, he seems to know where everybody is, he's accurate with his throws and is very locked in. He looked very good."
Harris, battling former Alouette Ricky Santos and rookie Zach Collaros for the third spot, finished 13-of-15 passing for 160 yards and the two TDs. Last week, he was 7-of-10 passing for 84 yards and a TD in Toronto's 29-24 exhibition victory over Hamilton.
But the six-foot-three, 209-pound Harris, who played collegiately at Edinboro, felt he could've done better.
"To be honest, I really felt I left some plays out on the field," he said humbly. "I did everything I could to ensure I had no regrets."
Hubbard's TD came three plays after Toronto recovered a fumble by Montreal rookie quarterback Josh Neiswander. Toronto's ravaged receiving corps took another hit on the drive as Djems Kouame was carted off with a left leg injury, further depleting a unit already missing Maurice Mann, Jason Barnes and Andre Durie to injury.
While the contest was a pre-season affair, an enthusiastic Rogers Centre gathering of 36,214 certainly gave it the feel of one that counted. The vast majority of the fans were school kids who were in the game from the opening kickoff, cheering loudly and pounding their ThunderStix frantically to create an atmosphere that's been often lacking at Argos home games.
And with the Rogers Centre roof closed — to prevent the threat of sunburn or heat stroke with the hot, humid conditions outside — the noise continually echoed throughout the stadium. The crowd also featured a man dressed entirely in a blue spandex suit, mimicking the Green Men, the pranksters who have become synonymous with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks.
Pacino Horne, who blocked a punt then returned it for the TD, also scored for Toronto (2-0). Noel Prefontaine booted a convert and field goal while Alix finished with a single and two converts.
For the second straight week, Harris outperformed Ray, who began a miserable outing by giving up an interception on Toronto's first offensive play. The nine-year veteran was 3-of-7 passing for 27 yards and two interceptions before giving way to Jackson early in the second and finished the pre-season just 8-of-15 passing for 99 yards with the two picks.
"He just never really did find his rhythm but ultimately we'll need Ricky for that first game," Milanovich said of Ray. "He has been practising very well, I just need to do a better job of getting him out of the gate faster and getting more comfortable with the things he likes to do.
"He's going to be fine."
Argos fans have their fingers crossed about a quarterback carrying the heavy weight of expectation heading into the 2012 season. Toronto will host the 100th Grey Cup in November and Ray, a two-time CFL champion with the Eskimos, is being counted upon to help transform a Double Blue squad that's missed the CFL playoffs three of the last four years into a championship contender.
Yet Ray's play in the two exhibition games hasn't exactly inspired a lot of confidence.
"It definitely wasn't the performance I was looking for heading into the season," Ray said. "It's hard to establish a rhythm especially getting off to the start we did.
"We just have to find a better way to get into a little bit better rhythm."
It was the final pre-season tuneup for both teams. Toronto opens the 2012 season in Edmonton on June 30 while Montreal (0-2) visits Calgary on July 1.
But playing Tuesday gives Toronto and Montreal extra time to ponder their final lineup changes. CFL teams have until Saturday to reduce their rosters to 46 players.
Montreal coach Marc Trestman, for one, is glad to be finished with exhibition games.
"We're very fortunate this game is done," he said. "Now we have two weeks to recover from all those little injuries and prepare for the season."
Canadian Kyle Quinlan, who led McMaster to the Vanier Cup last year, was the last of four quarterbacks to play for Montreal. Quinlan's first CFL pass was a 41-yard completion to Felton Huggins that put the Alouettes at the Toronto 46-yard line with under two minutes remaining.
But Quinlan's third-down incompletion forced Montreal to turn the ball over on downs and he finished 1-of-3 passing.
"Because we were down we had to be aggressive and I like those situations," said Quinlan, who can return to McMaster this fall if he's released by Montreal. "I'm happy they called it.
"I hope I made a couple of coaches notice me. It's up to the coaches to evaluate me. I always challenge myself and continuously self-evaluate."
Quinlan is one of two Canadian quarterbacks — the other is Acadia's Kyle Graves — on Montreal's roster but each is a longshot to remain with the CFL club. Like Quinlan, Graves can return to school this fall as well.
"We were excited and wanted to get both of them into the game," Trestman said. "Kyle did himself credit with some beautiful throws.
"How crazy would it be for him to go back [to McMaster] and try for another championship?"
Montreal starter Anthony Calvillo, seeing his first action of the pre-season, was 7-of-11 passing for 55 yards before giving way to backup Adrian McPherson late in the opening quarter.
"You're always anxious to get out there and perform at a high level," Calvillo said. "Overall, it went very well."
Travon Patterson and Brandon Whitaker scored Montreal's touchdowns while Sean Whyte added the converts and two field goals.