REGINA — Given the choice of facing either Edmonton or B.C. in the CFL West semifinal, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are betting they can beat the Lions.
The Riders defeated the Eskimos 31-23 on Saturday, eliminating Edmonton from playoff contention.
Saskatchewan (10-8) will host the Lions (8-10) on Nov. 14, and Riders slotback Andy Fantuz says they’re ready to make a playoff run.
“We knocked one team out of the playoffs and we have three more to go,” he said.
The Eskimos and Lions entered the final week of the regular season tied for the final playoff spot with Edmonton holding the tie-breaker. B.C. defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 23-21 earlier in the day, forcing the Eskimos to win to stay alive.
“Our guys persevered and still gave us a chance,” said Eskimos head coach Richie Hall. “We never gave up hope.
“Saskatchewan is a good football team and they came out in the third quarter and made some drives, got some turnovers and we came back in the fourth and just ran out of time.”
Both teams’ offences were nearly unstoppable at the start of the game. Neither team turned the ball over in the first half and Edmonton punted only once — late in the second quarter. Saskatchewan, however, took control of the game’s momentum after that punt.
Down 16-8, Durant capped a five-play, 58-yard touchdown drive with a one-yard run into the endzone with two seconds left on the clock.
Saskatchewan received the ball to start the second half and promptly marched 74 yards for the team’s second straight score. Cates’ one-yard touchdown run gave him a league-leading 16 for the season.
Tad Kornegay stripped Ricky Ray of the ball on Edmonton’s next possession and Durant, who completed 26-of-38 passes for 345 yards, connected with Fantuz for a 27-yard TD pass two plays later.
Fantuz finished the game with 77 yards in the game, which put him in the league lead for most receiving yards with 1,380 yards.
Edmonton conceded a safety touch to increase Saskatchewan’s lead to 31-16 after three quarters.
“They just made some plays,” said Hall. “They got some big plays and turnovers and fed off the crowd. The bottom line is they did what they had to do. We couldn’t slow them down too much.”
The Eskimos had their chances to come back in the game. Ray, who completed 21-of-33 passes for 246 yards, drove Edmonton to Saskatchewan’s 17-yard line before losing a fumble on the Riders’ nine-yard line.
He did score from four-yards out with 1:24 left in the game, but failed to recover the onside kick.
Although the game was meaningless for Saskatchewan, the Roughriders played all their starters. The team was trying to gain momentum going into the playoffs after dropping four straight games.
“I talked to the folks yesterday and a day before that I thought it was very important to come in and play well to establish some positive momentum,” said Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller. “I’m happy we were able to do that.
“It’s good (our offence, defence and special teams played well) and it’s coming at the correct time. You want to have all those things functioning well heading into the playoffs.”
Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson left the game in the first quarter with an injury, but he will be back next week and no other Riders suffered serious injuries.
The Eskimos (7-11) will clean out their lockers on Sunday.
Note: The Roughriders possess five league leaders. Simpson leads the league in tackles (104), Cates leads in touchdowns (16) Durant leads the league in passing yards (5,531), Fantuz in receiving yards (1,380) and James Patrick leads in interceptions (9).