REGINA — Nick Arbuckle took a page from Cody Fajardo’s book and ran with it.
In his first career CFL start, Arbuckle overshadowed his quarterback counterpart and led the Calgary Stampeders to an impressive 37-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“He’s a confident kid,” said Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson, as his team improved to 2-1. “He did a nice job handling the noise. You can tell he knows what he’s doing … he’s letting the defence take him to his throws. He’s not afraid to take a chance.”
Arbuckle, filling in for the injured Bo Levi Mitchell, completed 19-of-22 pass attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns in a game Calgary led throughout.
“He’ll have to keep doing it. That’s always the tough thing – to do it again, again and again,” Dickenson added. “But I do think he’ll probably have that opportunity for the next few weeks.”
It was the second consecutive game in which Arbuckle led the Stampeders to victory. Last week, he entered the game in the fourth quarter and rallied his team to a victory over the visiting B.C. Lions.
On Saturday, he had plenty of support.
“There were so many guys out there making plays,” he said. “Our offensive line played phenomenal. Both of our running backs stepped up and played really well. Everybody was clicking and focused on what they were supposed to do.”
Calgary’s first possession of the game was a sign of things to come. A 10-play, 73-yard drive was capped with a two-yard touchdown run from Ka’Deem Carey. Carey and Terry Williams combined to rush for 122 yards against a usually stout Saskatchewan defence.
The Riders dropped to 1-3.
Calgary led 15-3 at halftime and poured it on in the second half.
After a one-yard touchdown run by Fajardo on Saskatchewan’s opening possession of the third quarter, Arbuckle responded with a five-play, 103-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Eric Rogers.
The ensuing Saskatchewan possession saw Tre Roberson intercept a Fajardo pass and return it 48 yards for a touchdown to put the Stampeders ahead 30-10.
Arbuckle finished his night with a 76-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Begelton late in the fourth quarter.
Begelton had four catches for 102 yards and Rene Parades kicked three field goals.
“There were a lot of nerves before the game,” Arbuckle said. “I think they went away after a play or two, especially after I got hit.
“It was fun to play from ahead the whole time. Obviously the 108-yard touchdown drive we had was really a big difference maker.”
With Mitchell, the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player, on the six-game injured list, the starting quarterback job is Arbuckle’s to run with.
“Calgary has been the team to beat… and they have been the team to beat in the CFL,” Ed Gainey, Saskatchewan defensive back, told the media. “They’re like the (New England) Patriots of this league. It seems like they can never do wrong no matter who’s in the game. They always find a way to get it done.”
Fajardo couldn’t continue his solid play from the previous two games. He struggled against the defending Grey Cup champs and completed nine of 15 pass attempts for 89 yards. He was intercepted twice before he was replaced with Isaac Harker in the fourth quarter.
In his first two career starts, Fajardo threw for 790 yards, including 430 yards just five days ago in a win over the Toronto Argonauts.
Fajardo credited a strong Calgary defence that “made him uncomfortable.”
“I put this game on me,” he said. “I definitely underperformed. I turned the ball over twice, which is a no-no in this league. I scrambled a little bit when I didn’t have to.”
The Riders will have an extra week to correct their mistakes. They’re on a bye week before they return July 20 to host the B.C. Lions.
Calgary will travel to Hamilton on Saturday to take on the Tiger-Cats.
Craig Slater, The Canadian Press