EDMONTON — Steven Jyles’s fourth quarter dive into the endzone put the Saskatchewan Roughriders back atop the packed CFL West Division.
Jyles’s touchdown plunge proved to be the difference as Saskatchewan avenged last week’s narrow loss by taking down the Edmonton Eskimos 23-20 in the rematch in front of a record crowd of 62,517 on Saturday night.
It was the third win in the last four outings for the Riders (7-5), who kept pace with Calgary for a share of first place in the West.
“It’s a big win on the road,” said Riders starting quarterback Darian Durant. “It’s a big Western win and it keeps us in first place. We want to finish the season in first place and to do that we need to take care of the games that we need to win to control our own path. We definitely didn’t want to lose all three to Edmonton this year.”
Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller admitted the game was far from perfect, but his team will take it.
“There were a lot of mistakes,” said Miller. “The weather was a big factor in some of the errors. There is some room for improvement off of that game.
“But it’s a big win for us. It keeps us in first place. It keeps us away from the pack at second place or worse.”
Edmonton (6-6) had already captured the season series against Saskatchewan but has now lost three of its last four to sit in third in the West.
“It just wasn’t meant to be today,” said Eskimos head coach Richie Hall. “We battled but we just didn’t make enough plays. Saskatchewan did a good job out there and in many ways I thought we did too, but we just didn’t make enough plays to win the football game. It was an opportunity that slipped away on us.”
“We made a lot of plays on defence and did a lot of things well today,” added defensive back T.J. Hill, who had a sack and two interceptions, one of which went back for a touchdown.
“Stats don’t mean anything when you lose, though. They made the big plays when they needed to and we didn’t.”
The crowd was the largest ever for a regular season game at Commonwealth Stadium, surpassing a draw of 62,444 for a Labour Day game against Calgary in 2003.
Heavy winds made play difficult in the early going. Edmonton became the first team to get on the scoreboard as Hill picked off Durant eight minutes in and took the ball the full 59 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 Eskimos lead.
Saskatchewan looked to have tied it up four minutes later but an illegal formation penalty erased a 14-yard TD pass to Andy Fantuz and the Riders were forced to settle for a 26-yard Luca Congi field goal.
Edmonton conceded a safety shortly thereafter and the Riders were looking for more points late in the first, but the Eskimos came up with another big pick as Bradley Robinson’s interception on the Edmonton nine kept it 7-5.
The Eskimos started the second with the winds at their back and used it to their advantage as quarterback Ricky Ray hit Kamau Peterson for a 63-yard pass to the Roughrider 19-yard line, leading to a Noel Prefontaine field goal.
Saskatchewan took the lead with two minutes to go in the second after seemingly putting themselves out of a position to get points. A pair of quarterback sacks followed by two ill-timed penalties took them out of field-goal range, but the subsequent punt slipped through Robinson’s fingers where Saskatchewan’s Renauld Williams was able to fall on it in the end zone to put the Riders ahead 12-10 at the half.
“That was an unusual play,” Miller said. “It was really an example of our team taking advantage of an opportunity. That was a very big play for us.”
Edmonton regained the lead with an early third quarter field goal and kept the Riders from answering on their next possession. Jason Armstead kept a pass bouncing and bobbling in the air at the Edmonton 35 just long enough for Hill to scoop it up for his second interception of the game.
Saskatchewan bounced back with a field goal to inch ahead 15-13 heading into the fourth.
Edmonton once again surged ahead 1:05 into the final frame as Arkee Whitlock found a seam in the middle and blazed 55 yards for the touchdown and a five-point Eskimos lead.
The see-saw scoring continued with 10 minutes left in the final frame as the Riders capped off a long drive with a one-yard plunge by backup QB Jyles. Durant came back in to toss a two-point convert to Fantuz and send the hordes of visiting Rider fans home happy.
Hall wished that the record crowd had witnessed an Edmonton win.
“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “Two rival teams battling for first place. It was an exciting game. I don’t think you could write a better script other than the fact that the home team didn’t win it.”
Both teams return to action next Friday as the Eskimos travel to Winnipeg and the Riders are in B.C.
Notes: Edmonton won the first game of the home-and-home series 31-27 on a late passing TD to Maurice Mann in Regina last Sunday. . . The Eskimos were once again missing running back Calvin McCarty (hamstring) and ace kick returner Tristan Jackson (knee). Jackson is close to returning but the Eskimos are being cautious to ensure he doesn’t aggravate the injury and face being out long-term. Also out was linebacker Rod Davis (shoulder). . . Esks defensive back Lenny Williams left the game with a left MCL leg injury in the first quarter and did not return. Edmonton also lost linebacker Kelly Malveaux with a hamstring injury. . . For the Riders, notable absences included cornerback Donovan Alexander (hamstring) and running back Neal Hughes (quadriceps). . . Edmonton’s Kamau Peterson reached 3,000 receiving yards as an Eskimo in the contest. . . John Chick and Stevie Baggs entered the game tied for top spot in the CFL with eight quarterback sacks apiece. The Riders also led the league with 42 takeaways.