Using their third starting quarterback in as many weeks, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defence returned two first-half interceptions for touchdowns in a 55-9 pounding of the Edmonton Eskimos at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday night.
Saskatchewan’s defenders also allowed just one safety and a single after holding a 7-6 lead following the first quarter.
“That’s one of the best feelings in the world,” said Roughriders linebacker Kitwana Jones, who opened the scoring with a 54-yard return on Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray’s first pick of the game. “My job is to keep them out of the end zone, not to get it in, but I was fortunate enough to get it in.”
Saskatchewan’s 55 points was just three shy of the club record, established against the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1989.
More importantly, the win kept the Roughriders (11-6) in the hunt for a home playoff game as they temporarily moved into second place in the CFL’s West Division. The B.C. Lions entered the day tied with the ‘Riders for second as they prepared to play the Toronto Argonauts later that night.
Edmonton, meanwhile, dropped to 9-8 and will finish fourth in the division. They will, however, make the playoffs as the cross-over team and face the Blue Bombers in the East Division semifinal.
“We’re just plain dumb right now,” said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. “We’re dumb. Collectively… as players and coaches that’s as dumb of a football game as I’ve seen.”
Steven Jyles was given the start for Saskatchewan after showing well last week in relief of starter Darian Durant against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Jyles struggled Saturday with two interceptions of his own in the first half and was replaced by former No. 1 pivot Michael Bishop to start the second. But the wind, gusting at times to nearly 80 k.p.h., was no kinder to his Edmonton counterpart.
Ricky Ray’s second pick was returned 48 yards for a TD by Renauld Williams as the Esks dug themselves a 33-6 hole by the half. Ray was replaced by the equally-ineffective Jason Maas midway through the third quarter. Maas went on to complete six of 16 passes for 57 yards.
Edmonton’s points came on a field goal and two singles from Noel Prefontaine, as well as two safeties given up by Saskatchewan punter Jamie Boreham.
Ray finished the game 10-for-18 for 99 yards while Jyles was 7-for-13 also for 99 yards but with a touchdown to boot.
Bishop completed a 41-yard touchdown strike to Weston Dressler on the Roughriders’ first series of the second half and completed nine of 10 attempts for 148 yards. That catch moved the rookie receiver over 1,000 yards on the season.
“The only thing that affected me a little bit was my feet started to freeze for a minute (in the first half) so I was just trying to get warmed up but the wind didn’t affect me at all,” said Bishop.
Bishop may be able to take additional comfort in the thought that Saskatchewan’s quarterback carousel appears to have come to a stop.
Roughriders head coach Ken Miller said after the game that Bishop will likely get the start in their regular-season finale Thursday against Toronto and that the No. 1 job is Bishop’s to lose.
“I’ve kind of been saying that for a week and people have kind of been embroiled in the controversy instead of listening to what I’ve said,” said Miller. “To be perfectly honest with you … right now my plan would be to start Michael Bishop next week in Toronto and, if he’s able to generate momentum there, go with him into the playoffs.”
Returning from a broken left fibula, Andy Fantuz wasted no time making his presence felt. Saskatchewan’s leading receiver at the time he was injured, Fantuz caught a 16-yard pass on his team’s first play from scrimmage. Fantuz had missed 11 games after being hurt July 27 against Toronto. He finished the game with four catches for 62 yards, including a six-yarder in the final frame for a touchdown.
The Roughriders were also supported offensively with touchdown catches by Corey Grant and Weston Dressler, two rushing majors from Wes Cates, and a 41-yard field goal from Luca Congi in the second quarter.
“It’s just one game but we’re going to build off this and try to keep the ball rolling for next week and then going into the playoffs,” said Fantuz, who added his leg held up better than expected. “I was expecting to play and see how the leg felt, and if it felt good to keep playing and it did … so I was happy”.
Saturday’s game also marked the return of Eskimos defensive lineman Fred Perry. Perry swapped shades of green when he was dealt by the ‘Riders for Jyles in the off-season and had suffered what was then believed to be a season-ending broken leg on July 20.