MONTREAL - A game already missing too many stars lost another with news that the CFL's reigning most outstanding player will not play for the Toronto Argonauts in their battle for first place with the Montreal Alouettes.
Chad Owens, the dynamic slotback and kick returner who leads the league in combined yards, will sit out with bruised ribs suffered in Toronto's 20-9 loss at home to the Alouettes on Tuesday night.
Former Alouettes receiver Trent Guy will take over part of Owens' workload, playing some slotback and returning punts, but there is really no replacing the CFL's most explosive player.
"We feel we have some pretty good receivers we can slip in there," Argonauts coach Scott Milanovich said Saturday. "We expected that Chad wouldn't be able to go, so the game plan was made with that in mind, around the strengths of the people who will be taking his spot.
"Obviously, as outstanding player, he's a tremendous player, and maybe even more than that because he brings an energy to our team you can't replace. Some guys are going to have to step up and play well."
Milanovich said Owens' injury does not appear to be serious and he expects him back for a game Sept. 14 in Regina.
The Argonauts (5-4) and Alouettes (4-5) meet Sunday afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium after only a five-day break between games.
Both sides are missing their top guns.
Along with Owens, Toronto is without starting quarterback Ricky Ray for a second game in a row, and running back Chad Kackert was already out. Backup quarterback Zach Collaros will start behind centre.
Rookie Tanner Marsh will make his second start in a row for Montreal in place of all-time CFL passing leader Anthony Calvillo, who is out indefinitely with a concussion. Running back Brandon Whitaker is also missing with a hamstring injury, and they were already without top receiver Jamel Richardson, who is gone for the season with a knee injury.
Losing Owens was another major blow to Toronto, which has lost two games in a row.
"He's a big time threat," said Montreal head coach and general manager Jim Popp. "He's been a terror for a lot of teams in the league for a number of years now.
"It's unfortunate. Chad takes a lot of shots in a game and it looks like he got one in the ribs at a strange angle and it must be affecting him. But we've all had injuries. We've got more than 10 starters out, so we understand the scenario. Other people have to step in and try to do the best they can."
The Alouettes have won their last two games and saw their chances to sweep Toronto and take a share of first place improve with the Owens injury.
Linebacker Shea Emry said it won't change their approach to the game.
"They'll have new guys stepping in," he said. "Whether they call the same plays as when Chad is in the game or not, they'll probably have guys come in who are just like Chad and can move the ball around. It's up to us to go out there and make tackles.
"We're fighting for first place right now and that's all that's on our minds. It has nothing to do with last week or playing back-to-back. We're playing for first place and it's at home, so we're excited."
The Alouettes look to be turning their season around after a disastrous start under rookie coach Dan Hawkins, who was fired and replaced by Popp after only five games.
The surprise is that they've done it without Calvillo, as 23-year-old Marsh has managed to put up enough points to win despite some turnovers and awkward moments, while the defence has quietly got stingier with each game.
"All season we've been playing decent football," said Emry. "Obviously, they're going to talk about the offence with Anthony Calvillo not playing and a new quarterback coming in and making plays.
"No foul against us. We just want to win games and that's what happened the last two weeks."
Marsh has thrown for more than 300 yards in the last two games, but a key was that he cut his interceptions from four two weeks ago to only one in his next game. He still likes to air the ball out downfield, but is taking fewer risks.
"I want to get to the point where we don't have to stand here and say I didn't throw as many interceptions," said the rookie behind the Marsh Madness rage. "The biggest thing is, I learned that I don't have to do that much.
"I just have to get the ball out to the receivers and let them make plays. That's what I want to carry over to this week. Don't force myself to make plays. Make the offence work."
The Argonauts offence was humming with Ray at quarterback, but has slowed considerably with Callaros. He had decent numbers in his last outing, completing 21 of 32 passes for 256 yards, but there were a lot of two-an-out series.
It will be even tougher without Owens. He may also have a new running back if newcomer Jerious Norwood gets the start ahead of Quinn Porter.
Owens seemed to always be at his best the Alouettes, the team he began his CFL career with.
Guy will be in the same position. He was Montreal's kick returner last season, but was let go in favour of Noel Devine and Tyron Carrier.
"I am exciting that I am getting to play against a team I played for, but it's not about me," said Guy. "We need the win.
"I have a few good memories there. My first and second touchdowns were at (Molson) stadium, and I had some long returns there, so it is exciting to come in and have my first return action there."