REGINA — Mike McCullough shouldn’t have to visit the unemployment office any time soon.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ middle linebacker forced two fumbles before halftime and knocked down a key second-down pass early in the first quarter as the Riders clinched a home playoff game for the first time since 2010 with a 35-14 win Saturday over the B.C. Lions.
Saskatchewan (11-5) won its third straight game and the season series with B.C. (9-7), meaning it can finish no lower than second in the CFL’s West Division. The Lions (9-7) will finish third and travel to Regina or Calgary for the West semifinal.
The Riders and Stampeders will play next Saturday in a must-win for Saskatchewan if it wants to maintain a chance at first place.
“Mike lives one more week. He’ll keep the job for one more week,” quipped Riders head coach Corey Chamblin. “That’s what I’ll say about Mike McCullough.
“His biggest test will be against (Stampeders running back) Jon Cornish. If he can prove that he can stay there, then he can play for the rest of the year at that spot.”
McCullough forced turnovers two and four during a stretch in which B.C. coughed up the ball four times in five offensive plays.
His first came when he stripped Lions running back Stefan Logan at the end of an 11-yard run to set up a 14-yard field goal by Chris Milo.
His second victim was B.C. receiver Courtney Taylor, who coughed up the ball near midfield.
Riders quarterback Darian Durant then threw 42 yards to Weston Dressler to set up a one-yard TD plunge from Kory Sheets and extend the team’s lead to 27-7
The game was McCullough’s sixth straight start in place of the injured Rey Williams.
“I’m not going to replace him, he’s one of the best in the game,” McCullough said of Williams, out for the season with a knee injury suffered Sept. 8.
“I just come in and do my own game. If I’m going to try and beat him I’m not going to be successful. So I’ve just got to do what I can do and we’re doing good on defence so we’re happy.”
They were good enough Saturday to force eight turnovers in all, six of which resulted in 28 points.
Late in the first quarter B.C. quarterback Thomas DeMarco fumbled under pressure from John Chick and the returning Weldon Brown returned the loose ball 46 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 Saskatchewan lead.
Three offensive plays later, DeMarco threw over the middle right into the arms of Riders halfback Carlos Thomas, leading to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Durant to Dressler.
McCullough forced his second fumble of the game on the very next play, and on the play after that Taylor bobbled a catch that ended up in Craig Butler’s hands after a diving interception near midfield.
Milo missed the ensuing field-goal attempt but the ball went deep enough for a single, and he nailed a 15-yard kick before halftime to extend the lead to 31-7.
Milo had kicked his longest score, from 30 yards out, on Saskatchewan’s third possession of the game to get the Riders on the board.
The Lions let Saskatchewan know they were still alive when Lin-J Shell intercepted Durant in the third and turned that into a seven-yard TD catch by Shawn Gore. But Tristan Jackson and Dwight Anderson added interceptions for Saskatchewan in the fourth quarter, and B.C. turned the ball over on downs late in the quarter allowing Milo to kick a 38-yard field goal to put the game away.