Trevor Harris was challenged to come up with the right adjective to describe the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 12-11 CFL victory over the Edmonton Elks on Thursday.
Strange? Bizarre? Unusual?
Harris settled on gutsy as the Riders scored nine points in the final 66 seconds of the fourth quarter to register the victory and end a seven-game regular season home losing streak.
So how weird was the ending? The Elks entered the final three minutes with a seemingly comfortable 11-3 lead.
Harris, however, managed to lead the Riders on a successful drive. He connected with Mitchell Picton on a five-yard touchdown pass and then followed up with a successful two-point conversion to Kendall Watson to tie the game 11-11 with 1:06 remaining.
As overtime appeared imminent, the game took one final twist when on the ensuing kickoff Edmonton’s C.J. Sims decided to down the ball in the end zone rather than return it.
That rouge, which was the fifth single of the game between the two teams, broke the deadlock and gave the Riders a 12-11 lead.
“He knows (he made a mistake),” said Elks head coach Chris Jones when asked about Sims’ mistake. “The moment was big and he’s a good little player. There will probably be more people talking about this than when he had a great game returning the other day.”
Harris, who joined the Riders in the off-season as a free agent after playing last season for the Montreal Alouettes, admitted the finish was unique to the CFL.
“It was one of those only in the CFL moments,” said Harris, who finished 19 of 29 passing for 289 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “Last year in Montreal we lost when they missed a field goal and our returner stepped on the boundary when catching the ball. We lost when they missed a field goal and this one was new to me.
“I didn’t even celebrate after the two-point conversion, I was just thinking about getting to overtime. We finally got some traction and made the plays that we needed to make. It’s a big win, 3-1 is big time for us.”
The Riders entered the contest with 13 players on their injured lists, including receivers Jake Weineke, Derel Walker, Brayden Lenius, Juwan Brescacin and Kian Schaffer-Baker. The shortage of receivers gave Picton the opportunity to move into the starting lineup for Friday’s game.
The 28-year-old, who is in his fourth CFL season, didn’t disappoint as he caught four passes for 76 yards and one touchdown.
Harris understands Picton’s role on the team and believes in his ability to help the Riders.
“I feel like he’s a starting receiver in this league,” said Harris. “Unfortunately for him, he’s so darn good at every position that they feel he can back up everywhere. He’s become so valuable to us in that way.
“He only got one day of practice this week at that position and I didn’t get too many reps with him at training camp so the fact that he was able to do what he did, that shows what type of professional he is.”
Friday’s victory improves the Riders to 3-1 while the Elks drop to 0-5. All three of Saskatchewan’s victories came in close games and Harris is confident that the Riders are developing all the necessities required to win consistently.
“That’s the mark of teams that are connected and have good character and have good culture,” said Harris. “It’s important to find ways to win games rather than finding ways to lose games. I feel this team is always trying to find ways to win games.
“However ugly the win tonight might be, it’s two points in the win column and we’ll take it.”
Friday’s contest closed a stretch of five games in 25 days for the Elks.
While Jones acknowledged the challenge of the early schedule, he felt the Elks still had the chance to win but mistakes in the fourth quarter opened the door for a Saskatchewan comeback.
“That’s a lot of football. We brought in 28 kids who are either first- or second-year guys and at one point it was three games in 12 days with two travels. That’s a hard road,” said Jones. “We worked extremely hard but we just didn’t execute in the fourth quarter.”
Taylor Cornelius returned as the Elks starting quarterback after Jones went with Jarret Doege in last week’s 26-7 loss to the Ottawa Redblacks.
Cornelius completed 17 of 29 passes with one interception. He also rushed 11 times for 58 yards and one touchdown.
In addition to Lauther’s single in the final minute, the Elks got three rouges from punter Jake Julien and one from kicker Dean Faithfull.
Each team had a touchdown called back in the first half.
Elks receiver Steven Dunbar scored on a 36-yard reception early in the second quarter but it was nullified by a holding penalty.
Saskatchewan’s Mario Alford returned a missed field goal 125 yards for a touchdown minutes later, but a holding penalty negated the score.
The Elks return to action July 13 when they host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while the Calgary Stampeders will travel to Regina on July 15 to play the Riders.