VANCOUVER — Even after setting a CFL record, B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke saw room for improvement.
The 24-year-old native of Victoria, B.C., threw for 436 yards on Saturday, powering the Lions to a dominant 44-3 victory over the Toronto Argonauts.
It was the most passing yards a Canadian quarterback has ever put up in a CFL game, eclipsing the 427-yard mark set by Gerry Dattilio in 1981.
"I'm just a distributor of the football out there. Those guys are getting in the right positions and they're making big plays," Rourke said after the win.
"There were a couple throws today, especially the first half where I wasn't nearly as accurate as I need to be. But those guys made some plays for me and made me look good out there."
The performance was no surprise to veteran Lions defensive back Gary Peters.
“When you come into the facility, he's the first one there. And I'm one of the last people to leave. He's literally there after me, walking eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich, trying to find something to do. He's always working no matter what," he said.
"He’s trying to perfect himself. He's a young guy, but you can see in his eyes that he’s really hungry."
Rourke completed 39 of 45 passes on Saturday, including four touchdowns. He was sacked once.
Dominique Rhymes hauled in two majors for B.C. (2-0), while Bryan Burnham and Jevon Cottoy each had one. Fullback David Mackie scored a rushing TD late in the fourth quarter. Kicker Sean Whyte chipped in with three field goals, including a 50-yard strike.
B.C.'s defence smothered the Argos (1-1), holding McLeod Bethel-Thompson to 178 passing yards. The Toronto quarterback connected on 15 of 21 attempts, threw one interception and was sacked twice before being replaced late in the fourth quarter.
Chad Kelly came on in relief and threw for 26 yards, completing two of four attempts. He was sacked once and threw one interception.
The Argos' only points of the night came off a 23-yard field goal from Boris Bede early in the second quarter.
“I'm totally embarrassed. That was a horrible display of football," said Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. "That was a tough loss. It sucks. I hate it. But we can't let it ruin our season. We’ve just got to go back to work and find ways to get better.”
The Lions were coming off of a bye week but showed no rust early in Saturday's game, kicking it off with an eight-play, 68-yard scoring drive.
Rourke scrambled out of a collapsing pocket to pick up 11 yards and a first down, then capped the drive with a crisp 19-yard pass to Burnham in the end zone. The veteran wide receiver bowed twice to the crowd after tallying his first touchdown of the season.
B.C.'s defensive unit was tested on Toronto's first possession of the night, with DaVaris Daniels powering through a tackle and Bethel-Thompson finding Dejon Brissett on the Lions' one-yard line.
The Lions stood strong and denied the visitors all three times they attempted to sneak into the end zone. Toronto turned the ball over on downs.
“And then it just snowballed and we couldn't get nothing going," Dinwiddie said. "And we get a little bit going in the third quarter then we fumble. I mean, everybody had a hand in it. It's just It's upsetting, but we’ve got to find ways to get better.”
Early in the second quarter, B.C. cornerback Delvin Breaux knocked down a long toss from Bethel-Thompson to Brandon Banks and Dinwiddie challenged the call, arguing defensive pass interference. On review, officials agreed and Toronto was awarded a first down at the B.C. 21-yard line.
Lions defensive lineman David Menard sacked Bethel-Thompson on the next play, but the Argos still managed to score on the drive, with Bede booting a field goal that cut Toronto's deficit to 10-3.
Rourke increased the Lions' cushion midway through the half, finding Rhymes in the end zone with a 19-yard bullet to cap a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive.
B.C. headed to the locker room up 20-3 after Whyte hit a 44-yard field goal to close out the second quarter.
A rash of injuries swept through B.C.'s lineup late in the first half, though, with linebacker Bo Lokombo, running back James Butler and Burnham all heading to the locker room with game-ending injuries. Receiver Lucky Whitehead appeared to suffer an ankle injury too but stayed in the game.
"A couple of people went down but it just makes us stronger," Rhymes said. "And it just shows the versatility we have on offence. When one man goes down, that's our brother, so we want to make sure we only pick it up for him.”
Lions head coach Rick Campbell said Burnham went to hospital to have further tests done and the team won't know his status until Sunday. Lokombo and Butler may be available to play next week.
Midway through the third frame, Wynton McMannis hauled down Rourke around centre field for a seven-yard loss. The Lions remained undeterred, though, and sent Whyte out for a 50-yard field goal attempt. He made the kick, giving B.C. a 23-3 lead.
Lions defensive end Obum Gwacham seemed to exact some revenge on the next possession, sacking Bethel-Thompson.
Rourke's arching 29-yard toss to a wide-open Cottoy deep in the red zone set up B.C.'s third TD of the night late in the third quarter. Cottoy took a couple of quick steps into the end zone and tallied his first major of the season.
The final frame saw Rourke again connect with Rhymes, this time with a 24-yard toss. Stationed just outside of the end zone, Rhymes easily completed the touchdown and the Lions took a 37-3 lead.
Peters added to Toronto's woes midway through the fourth quarter, picking off Bethel-Thompson's pass.
Mackie — filling in at running back for the injured Butler — muscled the ball over the goal line late in the fourth for his first CFL touchdown. A successful convert from Whyte gave the home side a 44-3 lead.
Kelly came on for Bethel-Thompson to close out the game and was quickly sacked by Menard.
The Lions will be back in action on Thursday when they tackle the Redblacks in Ottawa. The Argos will host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on July 4.
FOOTNOTES: The victory gives B.C. a 2-0 start to the season for the first time since 2016. … Argos offensive lineman Jonathan Zamora limped off the field after being injured on a play midway through the fourth quarter. Saturday marked the 100th all-time meeting between the two teams. B.C. holds a 60-38-2 edge in the series.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press