TORONTO — Kory Sheets has his sights set firmly on Mike Pringle.
The sophomore running back rushed for 178 yards and two TDs on Thursday night to power the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a 39-28 win over the Toronto Argonauts. It was the third straight week Sheets has rushed for more than 100 yards.
With a league-best 442 yards, Sheets is on pace for over 2,600 yards this year, which would smash Pringle’s single-season mark of 2,065 recorded in 1998.
And Sheets is well aware of Pringle’s record and his standing as the best running back in CFL history with a league-record 16,425 career rushing yards.
“Yes, that was the first thing I did when I came up here two years ago, look at the league record for rushing and that’s been my goal ever since,” Sheets said. “Someone wants to say I’m being cocky because I want to be the best, then so be it, that’s their opinion. In everything I do I try and be great.”
Sheets, who had three 100-yard games last year, has rushed for career highs in the first three weeks of the season.
“Kory Sheets has it set in his mind he wants to be the best back in the league and I think he’s doing those things to become the best back in the league,” said Riders coach Corey Chamblin. “The play-calling was good and our O-line was phenomenal … he (Sheets) knows for him to be the best back he also has to have the best O-line and those guys are giving good push up front.”
And earning their keep as Sheets treats his offensive linemen to hamburgers every time he rushes for over 100 yards.
“We’ll have to do something special if we get to 1,000 yards kind of early,” Sheets said with a chuckle.
Riders’ quarterback Darian Durant was pretty good, too, completing 14-of-19 passes for 245 yards and three TDs — including two long ones to Taj Smith — before leaving with a foot injury with 9:52 remaining. But Durant had cemented the win before a disappointing Rogers Centre gathering of 18,211 with a 70-yard TD strike to Smith at 6:51 of the third.
Durant had found a wide-open Smith on a 61-yard touchdown pass in the opening half as Smith finished with a game-high 141 receiving yards on three catches.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened, I just know I got rolled up on it,” Durant said. “It’s pretty sore.”
The good news is Saskatchewan (3-0) doesn’t play again until July 21 when it hosts Hamilton. But the Riders also got lucky when Toronto’s Jamie Robinson returned a Durant interception 88 yards for the TD at 6:43 of the second that would’ve given the Argos an 18-7 advantage.
However, it was negated by a pass interference call on Robinson. That gave Saskatchewan possession at the Toronto 14 and set up Sheets’ two-yard TD run at 7:30 to put the Riders ahead 14-11.
Saskatchewan took a 21-11 lead on Durant’s first TD pass to Smith at 14:10 en route to a 21-14 half-time advantage.
“It was huge, it was a momentum swing,” Durant said of the penalty on Robinson. “Whenever they make mistakes you want to make them pay.”
Toronto (1-2) made it interesting early in the fourth when Ricky Ray hit Chad Kackert on a 48-yard touchdown pass to cut its deficit to 32-21. But despite passing for 334 yards and two TDs, Ray was also sacked five times as as the defending Grey Cup champions suffered their second straight loss.
“Part of it was them getting a two-touchdown lead,” said Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich. “They can grind it out and it’s easier to call his (Sheets’) number in that situation.
“Clearly they did a nice job with it.”
Saskatchewan, the CFL’s lone undefeated team, has been dominant at Rogers Centre, winning seven of its last eight games there and eight-of-11 overall against the Argos. The Riders also scored more than 30 points for the third straight game.
But Saskatchewan opened last season with three straight wins before finishing third in the West Division standings with an 8-10 record.