Riders scratch past Tiger-Cats 30-13 in CFL opener

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REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders saved their best for last by scoring 18 fourth-quarter points en route to a 30-13 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium.

Since 2017, the Riders are 29-0 in regular-season CFL games when leading after three quarters. They led 12-6 heading into the fourth quarter and increased the lead to 15-6 three minutes into the stanza on Brett Lauther’s fifth field goal of the season opener for both teams.

Hamilton made things interesting on their next possession when Dane Evans connected with Steven Dunbar on a 71-yard touchdown pass to narrow the gap to 15-13. But the Riders responded with a pair of touchdowns as Cody Farjardo hit Kian Shaffer-Baker on a 20-yard scoring play and then followed up with a one-yard touchdown run on the next possession.

Fajardo, who finished the game 22 of 32 passing for 311 yards and one touchdown, was thrilled that the Riders' offence found an extra gear in the fourth quarter.

“The first half wasn't how we wanted to start, but to tell you the truth that one felt good because, if you look at our team last year, we always started fast and then slowed up toward the second half. It felt good tonight to finish,” said Fajardo.

“That was one of our big talks offensively and ‘finished’ was the word of the year for us. To have that come back full circle for our first game, it really shows the guys that it means a lot.”

Riders' head coach Craig Dickenson agreed with Fajardo’s assessment.

“The first half wasn’t as good as you’d like, but boy that fourth quarter was something else,” said Dickenson.

After Dunbar’s touchdown, the Riders responded with their best drive of the game, going 85 yards on seven plays. They completed the drive with Shaffer-Baker’s touchdown but the biggest play on the drive was a third-and-one gamble at midfield with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Riders, who had turned the ball over on downs twice previously, kept the drive alive on a two-yard run by Jamal Morrow.

On Hamilton’s first offensive play following the Riders touchdown, Evans was intercepted by Derrick Moncrief who returned the ball 39 yards to the Hamilton one-yard-line. Fajardo scored on a quarterback sneak on the next play and then hit Duke Williams on a two-point convert attempt to increase the lead to 30-13.

While the Saskatchewan offence took some time to find its way, the defence hit the ground running with eight sacks and two interceptions. Pete Robertson had two sacks for the Riders with Charleston Hughes, AC Leonard, Charbel Dabire, Mike Edem, Larry Dean and Rolan Milligan also recording sacks. Moncrief and Nick Marshall had interceptions for the Riders.

Robertson wasn’t surprised by having nine different players involved in the 10 take-aways.

“It goes to show that everybody came to play,” said Robertson, who also recovered a fumble. “It speaks to our depth. The linebackers were outstanding and the defensive backs allowed us time to rush the passer because of their coverage. They helped us get to the quarterback for sure.”

Dean was playing his first game in two years after the 2020 CFL season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an Achilles injury suffered before training camp ended his 2021 season. He was asked if Friday’s effort can be improved.

“Yes, sir,” Dean said. “We didn't play a perfect game.”

Lauther was a perfect five-for-five in field goal attempts, hitting from 13, 48, 30, 39 and 41 yards.

“He was incredible. Ever since I got here in 2019, he's a guy we can count on,” said Fajardo. “I know once we cross the centre field line you don't want to make a mistake because we can make three points when you have a great kicker like Brett.”

Both offences struggled in the first half. The Tiger-Cats had four first downs and 96 total net yards while the Riders had three first downs and 94 total net yards.

Papi White had the biggest gain of the half for the Tiger-Cats, hauling in a 26-yard reception from Evans in the second quarter. Saskatchewan’s longest gain of the half came when Morrow took a shovel pass from Fajardo and scampered 30 yards down the sideline.

Two minutes in the second quarter Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence drilled Fajardo, who was being taken to the turf by Malik Carney. Lawrence hit Fajardo in the upper back and head area and was penalized for rough play. Although Fajardo appeared to be injured on the play, he remained in the game.

When asked about the hit, Fajardo replied with a quick answer.

“No comment. I mean, it’s been like that the entire time I've been in this league,” said Fajardo.

Shaq Evans finished as Saskatchewan’s top receiver with four catches for 92 yards while Williams hauled in five passes for 58 yards.

Evans completed 18 of 22 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Dunbar had two receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown while Bralon Addison caught eight passes for 72 yards.

Domagala was good on two of three field goal attempts, hitting from 52 and 25 yards while missing from 46 yards when his kick hit the left upright.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2022

Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press

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