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MONTREAL — By their own admission it was not the prettiest game for the Roughriders, but Saskatchewan nevertheless secured a playoff spot with a 19-14 victory over the Montreal Alouettes.
Saturday night’s game was delayed as the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts headed to overtime. With the Argos win, the Riders knew they could clinch a playoff spot by beating the Alouettes in the pouring rain.
“We watched them fail on the two-point conversion and it gave us some juice,” said quarterback Cody Fajardo. “I don’t know if it gave us enough juice because we came out pretty flat offensively speaking but we found a way to win.”
Fajardo didn't throw a touchdown pass, going 14 of 25 passing for 158 yards. William Powell rushed in Saskatchewan’s only touchdown of the game and kicker Brett Lauther converted four field goals to seal the win.
“An ugly win offensively speaking but I’ve always been told my entire life not to apologize for victories, especially when you clinch,” Fajardo said.
Montreal kicker David Cote scored the first points of the game. His 36-yard attempt went through the uprights to give the Alouettes a 3-0 lead in the first half.
The Riders gained momentum late in the half following an interception by Loucheiz Purifoy deep in their end. The Riders drove 56 yards, fishing with a three-yard rush by Powell for the score to lead 7-3 at halftime.
Riders head coach Craig Dickenson admitted that he spoke about clinching in the locker room at halftime.
“We knew the score of the B.C. game and I said: ‘We have a chance to clinch a spot in the tournament if we find a way to win this game,’” Dickenson said. “I thought in the second half the guys came out focused and did what they needed to do to win it, so we’re thrilled to be in the dance.”
Montreal managed to stop Fajardo in the red zone early in the second half. Lauther notched a 21-yard field goal, upping the score to 10-3.
Dickenson was the first to agree that his defence carried his team to victory. He says the rest of the season will come down to getting Fajardo and his offence to jell as they head to the post-season.
“Certainly, we’re still a work in progress but I do believe the guys enjoy being on the team together. I think they enjoy playing for each other and that’s a good sign,” Dickenson said. “If we can just get a little better and start to jell near the end, I think we’ve got a chance.”
Alouettes quarterback Matthew Shiltz had his toughest game since becoming Montreal’s starter. Shiltz failed to throw a touchdown pass in three quarters, racking up 106 yards and one interception.
Filling in for Shiltz in the fourth, Trevor Harris threw for 123 yards and earned his first touchdown pass as an Alouette late in the quarter.
“I was just looking for a change of pace, that’s why I put Trevor in,” said Alouettes head coach Khari Jones. “I just didn’t feel like we were doing enough on offence and I wanted to give him the opportunity to change the pace.”
Jones brought in Harris for the last play of the third quarter. His first drive ended with a 45-yard Cote field goal, bridging the gap back to a one-possession game.
Saskatchewan regained their double-digit lead with a second Lauther field goal in the fourth quarter.
Harris threw the game’s first touchdown pass with 1:26 to go in the fourth quarter. He found Eugene Lewis with a four-yard pass, tightening the score to 16-14.
Following the onside kick, Lauther converted his fourth field goal making it a 19-14 game and sealing the win.
Montreal, which was first in the East before the game, dropped to third. The Als, who were also looking to clinch a playoff spot, head into back-to-back games against the league-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“I just want to play well and win the next game, that’s all that I’m focused on,” Jones said. “In this game, we didn’t have it but I’ll be focused on beating Winnipeg so that’s it.”
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press