CFL quarterbacks are dropping like flies, but Dane Evans hopes to help the B.C. Lions take flight

Ottawa has set a record for most QBs used in an early season, Saskatchewan has turned to untested Mason Fine, and Hamilton’s QB situation has been a revolving door. Now, Dane Evans will step in for a hobbled Vernon Adams against Edmonton.

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When Nathan Rourke got hurt late in a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in September of last season, the B.C. Lions thought they were still set at quarterback. They had another Canadian QB, Michael O’Connor, who was lighting it up in practice, and veteran Antonio Pipkin — the short-yardage specialist — behind him.

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It took exactly one combined 200-yard passing game and a 23-16 home loss to the same team they had thumped the week before to realize they needed help.

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O’Connor started the game and went 6-of-15 for 94 yards, but soon made way for Pipkin. He didn’t fare much better, going 9-of-17 for 112 yards and a touchdown.

Seeing their season’s hopes begin to evaporate before their eyes, the Lions went out and immediately traded for Vernon Adams Jr. to steer the ship until Rourke returned — if he even would.

It was also why this February the Lions jumped at the chance to trade for Dane Evans, who had become expendable after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats signed Bo Levi Mitchell from the Calgary Stampeders.

“I’ve in this league a long time now, and it’s rare that we go through a whole season without needing at least two quarterbacks. It’s just the way it goes,” said head coach and co-GM Rick Campbell. “That rings true again this year. We’re never going to turn away good football players, and we’re never going to turn away a chance to acquire a proven quarterback. We feel lucky to have (Evans).”

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All you have to do to look around the CFL for proof of concept. On Saturday, the Lions beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who started the unproven Mason Fine in place of injured starter Trevor Harris. The Ottawa Redblacks are already down to their third-string quarterback in Dustin Crumb, and became the first CFL team in history to start four different QBs in their first five games.

Not since 2018 when Mike Reilly, then in Edmonton, and Mitchell in Calgary, has a CFL team had the same quarterback start every game in a season.

On Saturday, the Lions (5-1) will start Evans against the Edmonton Elks (0-7), with Adams still feeling the effects of a scarily twisted knee that knocked him out of the game in the first quarter on Saturday. Adams’ injury wasn’t as bad as initially feared, and he was out throwing balls at practice on Tuesday, but Campbell made the early call to turn to Evans. After all, that’s why they got him.

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“He’s a proven winner and a hungry guy. It’s not like a guy that’s old or something, that ended his career,” said Campbell. “He’s a guy that was available to us through a trade. We weren’t going to pass it up.”

Evans came in cold to Saturday’s game, and took a while to heat up, despite orchestrating a 101-yard touchdown drive on his first series. He finished the night 16-of-25 for 219 yards, a touchdown and one “hero ball” interception he said he should never have thrown.

He knew coming into this year he was going to be the back-up to Adams, but the former Ticats starter isn’t chafing at the role. He is here to support Adams — and vice-versa — with all of them rowing in the same direction.

“Once VA last week was told he was done for the day and can’t came back out, he was right there in every huddle on the sideline, telling me what he’s seeing and telling me what he thinks they’re doing,” said Evans. “Just that rapport back and forth, it never stopped just because he was hurt. It wasn’t like he just packed it up and was like, ‘Alright, you guys got it.’

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“And I think that shows what kind of character he has so that he’s able to do that when he knows he physically can’t go. He can help the team in other ways and I think that’s what you want in your leader.

“Me, VA and Dom (Davis) talked about it at the beginning of this year, once we all got here,” added the 29-year-old. “It’s going to take all of us. Right now, this is my turn to step in. And we’ll see what happens from there …

“I know right now, my job on this team is to just get us to the next stop. And that’s what I plan to do.”

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Part of the Tuesday decision to anoint Evans the starter for Saturday’s game against Edmonton was the chance to get him physical reps, instead of the mental ones he usually takes in practice — seven yards behind the starter, simultaneously mimicking his actions during the play.

And while he is bought fully in as The Guy behind The Man, he’s still excited to get back into a game as a starter for the first time since last year’s East semifinal against Montreal.

“I mean, that’s what I live for. I love this game. I’m a huge fan,” said Evans. “I think this game is the greatest game on Earth. It’s given me so many good things. I would never be in Canada if it wasn’t for football. So I’m super appreciative of this game. And when you actually get to go play like you just became a little kid in the backyard again. That’s when everything is totally worth it.

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“Just to get in, to play and be out there with the guys and do what I love, especially (after) last year how it went for me personally, I realize how quick this game can get taken from you. So just going out there and doing what I love again, that’s what I’m most excited about.”

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