HAMILTON, Ont. — They broke into the CFL together with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and in 2010 formed one of the league’s most formidable passing tandems. But before lining up for different teams Friday night, there was no sentimental gathering between Darian Durant and Andy Fantuz.
Then Durant went out and spoiled Fantuz’s homecoming.
Durant threw four touchdown passes, including three to Weston Dressler, to lead Saskatchewan to a convincing 43-16 win over Fantuz and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL opener for both teams.
It was Durant’s first four-touchdown performance since throwing five TDs to open the 2010 season against Montreal.
The Ticats were one of the CFL’s most active teams this off-season, acquiring 37-year-old quarterback Henry Burris — the CFL’s outstanding player in 2010 — from Calgary and also making the biggest splash in free agency by signing Fantuz.
The six-foot-four, 220-pound slotback spent his first six seasons with Saskatchewan and was the league’s top Canadian in 2010 with 87 catches for 1,380 yards and six TDs. The 28-year-old Fantuz signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $190,000 annually to play closer to his hometown of Chatham, Ont.
But while an Ivor Wynne Stadium gathering of 25,682 came expecting offensive fireworks from Burris and Fantuz, it was Durant and Dressler who stole the show.
Durant finished 25-of-34 passing for 390 yards and was sacked just once, while Dressler was his favourite target with 13 catches for 180 yards.
“No, it was just another game,” Durant said when asked whether he spoke to Fantuz prior to or after the contest. “He was my teammate in the past but now I’ve got 45 other teammates I have to worry about.
“We’re about business. It’s just all about winning games.”
Dressler, though, felt it was strange seeing Fantuz clad in black and gold.
“It was different seeing him on the other side but it happens every year in the CFL,” said Dressler, one of the few remaining Riders who suited up with Fantuz in Regina. “But overall, this is a pretty new team with a lot of new faces who never played with Andy so it didn’t mean a whole lot to them.”
Burris was 28-of-39 passing for 284 yards and an interception, while Fantuz had a quiet night with five catches for 49 yards. Chris Williams, the CFL’s top rookie last season, had a career-high nine receptions for 109 yards.
“Sometimes you just get outplayed and that’s what happened,” Fantuz said. “We could’ve had the lead at the half and it might’ve been a different game.
“I guess it’s a good wakeup call for us because maybe we thought we were better than we are and we’ve got to get back to the drawing board now.”
Burris said the Ticats played like a team still looking to get into sync.
“You can tell this is a team that’s building something because we did good things then we started to sputter,” he said. “When we got into situations where we could put points on the board, we’d kill ourselves.
“We’ve got to get this thing down, we’ve got to tighten the ship up. We can’t make those mistakes.”
After hooking up on a nine-yard TD in the first half, Durant found Dressler on a 23-yard touchdown pass just 1:21 into the third to give Saskatchewan a 23-13 lead. Following an exchange of field goals, the two combined on a six-yard scoring pass with 16 seconds remaining in the quarter to give the Riders a commanding 33-16 advantage.
“We’ve been together for five years and when you’ve been playing with guys for that long you expect to be able to make throws when they’re not looking,” Durant said of Dressler.
Corey Chamblin, Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator last season, won his CFL head-coaching debut on Saskatchewan’s sidelines and handed Ticats’ boss George Cortez a loss in his first-ever game as pro head coach.
Despite the hype surrounding its off-season additions, Hamilton has traditionally struggled to start a CFL season. The Ticats last won an opener in 2004 and have just two victories to open a campaign since 2000. Saskatchewan, meanwhile, improved to 5-2 in season-opening contests since ’06.
“We talked about playing fast and those guys played fast,” Chamblin said. “We just kept going, we just kept going, we just kept going.
“It wasn’t one guy, it was us doing it together.”
Chris Getzlaf and Kory Sheets had Saskatchewan’s other touchdowns. Chris Milo added five converts and two field goals. The other points came on a safety.
Chevon Walker scored Hamilton’s touchdown, while Luca Congi, another former Roughrider, booted three field goals and a convert.
Saskatchewan went into halftime leading 16-13, thanks to a missed field goal and a 97-yard TD that didn’t count.
Milo had a terrific chance to put the Riders ahead 19-13 but his 29-yard field goal try on the half’s final play hit the upright. And Saskatchewan went into halftime ahead thanks to an illegal block call earlier in the quarter that negated Burris’ 97-yard TD strike to Williams with the visitors holding a three-point advantage.
A key 52-yard catch by Dressler was also allowed to stand despite the TV replay showing the tip of the ball appeared to hit the turf. Dressler made a diving attempt on the play and ran to the Hamilton 29-yard line. The Ticats didn’t challenge it and the play stood.
Cortez said he didn’t challenge the play because he didn’t get a good view of it when it happened and his spotters in the booth couldn’t see a replay before Saskatchewan snapped the ball on the next play.
“We didn’t play well enough to win the game in any round,” Cortez said. “At times we had pretty good returns, at times we covered pretty well but there was no consistency in any part of the game.”
Two plays later, Durant hit Getzlaf on a 25-yard TD pass to put Saskatchewan head 14-6.
The half’s biggest play that counted belonged to Walker. The rookie tailback, who got the start ahead of veteran Avon Cobourne — who was a healthy scratch — made that decision count with a stellar 89-yard TD run at 6:52 of the second that pulled Hamilton to within 14-13. The five-foot-10, 201-pound Walker took the handoff from Burris, broke through a huge hole and then took off untouched the rest of the way with outstanding burst of speed.
Durant’s touchdown pass to Dressler in the first opened the scoring.