Roughriders 24 Eskimos 20
REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders answered Ken Miller’s challenge Saturday.
The Riders’ head coach put the onus on his players to be better in the second half and they responded, rallying from a 14-10 half-time deficit to beat the Edmonton Eskimos 24-20.
“There’s a lot of character and leadership in the locker-room,” Miller said. “I challenged the team at halftime and they took that challenge.
“Among them, they came up with the effort, not necessarily a polished expertise effort, but a raw effort that managed to get us the win.”
The Riders (3-0) — who wore their new black-and-red jerseys as part of their centennial celebration this season — punctuated their comeback by outscoring Edmonton 11-0 in the fourth quarter. The big play was Darian Durant’s 38-yard TD strike to Andy Fantuz at 2:30 of the fourth.
Fantuz’s TD and ensuing convert tied the score 20-20 before Louie Sakoda’s 80-yard single on the ensuing kickoff put the Riders ahead to stay.
The defence did its part. James Patrick and Brent Hawkins both recovered Edmonton fumbles in the fourth to shut the door on any hope of the Eskimos (0-3) mounting the comeback for head coach Richie Hall, the former Roughriders defensive co-ordinator.
Although Sakoda kicked the winning point, he struggled punting into the wind — which gusted to 48 kilometres per hour. The sophomore punter failed to kick the ball further than 34 yards during the second, giving Edmonton excellent field position before being replaced by kicker Luca Congi in the second half after boots of 34, 34 13 and eight yards into the wind.
“This wind here is always tough,” said Sakoda. “Edmonton was bringing quite the rush and a few twists we haven’t seen and some stuff, and when you have pressure back there it’s pretty tough.
“Punting is a subtle art and you have to be very precise. Especially in that wind you’re going to suffer the consequences.”
Edmonton couldn’t take advantage of the wind in the second and third quarters. Outside of a two-yard TD run by Arkee Whitlock, all the Eskimos could muster were two Noel Prefontaine field goals and two singles as well as a safety with the wind at their backs.
Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray was 22-of-31 passing for 319 yards and hooked up with Fred Stamps 12 times for 213 yards. But Ray said his club’s inability to do more with the wind was key.
“In the two quarters where we did have the wind, we really didn’t do enough,” said Ray. “You need to take advantage because you’re going to get good field position just with the kicking game.“Even in the third quarter if we could have done a little bit more and put more pressure on them it could have been a different story for us. With all that said, we put ourselves in situations where we could change the outcome of the game, we just didn’t do it.”
Saskatchewan’s offence also struggled to move the ball for most of the game but managed to do so when they were backed up deep in their own zone.
The first came in the second quarter when tailback Wes Cates scampered 83 yards to Edmonton’s seven-yard line. That run, a career-long for Cates, set up a one-yard TD run by Hugh Charles that gave Saskatchewan a 10-3 lead in the second.
Rob Bagg came up big in the fourth with the Riders clinging to a 21-20 lead and backed up at their own nine-yard line. Bagg, who caught four passes for 43 yards, received a pitch from Weston Dressler on a double reverse, got a key block from Durant on Eskimo linebacker Maurice Lloyd who was lining up Bagg in the Riders’ end zone, and ran to midfield. That play, which was Bagg’s only rush of the game, set up Congi’s third field goal of the day, which closed out the scoring.
“The reverse we ran when we were backed up in the fourth quarter, that was a great call by Doug and Bobby and great execution,” said Miller. “When you call a play like that in that situation, you have some concerns about the execution of that play.
“It’s not a play you’d normally call in that situation, which is one of the reasons it was a great call. It was an unexpected play that we executed well and it was a game-changing play.”
Durant was 15-of-28 passing for 238 yards and a touchdown. He also threw his first interception of the season.
Cates had a game-high 112 yards rushing.
Miller said while the win wasn’t a pretty one, he said the manner in which the Riders earned the victory impressed him.
“We didn’t function all that well offensively,” Miller said. “We didn’t function that well on special teams, although we did kick some field goals that was the margin of victory, and then on defence we played well in the second half, but not so well in the first half. That’s great when you can scramble around and get a win when it wasn’t your best day.”