Riders come up big down the stretch to top Eskimos
EDMONTON – A pick-six with under a minute left by non-import defensive back Graig Newman broke up a tie game to help the Roughriders battle back to a 31-24 win over the Eskimos in pre-season play.
Matt Nichols got the start for the Lions as he is entrenched in a heated battle with former BC Lions pivot Mike Reilly for the right to lead the Eskimos under centre come opening.
Drew Willy made the start for the Riders behind centre and wasted little time getting his team on the board, leading an impressive first possession, spanning 48 yards, which was capped off by a 40-yard Chris Milo field goal to put Saskatchewan up 3-0.
Nichols started the game moving the ball effectively between the 20s but couldn’t seem to capitalize on anything early. Midway through the first quarter, he completed a 40-yard pass to receiver Ed Gant but stalled the drive a play later when he threw an errant pass into the arms of Riders DB Macho Harris.
Nichols Exits Early
Just under seven months removed from a serious ankle injury, Matt Nichols was helped off the field in the first quarter. He finished 5 of 7 for 88 yards and 2 interceptions…Read More.
The Riders were poised to expand on their lead but the Esks defence matched that of the Riders when they forced WR Taj Smith to fumble and former Tiger-Cat DB Marcel Young scooped it up and returned it down the sideline for an Edmonton touchdown.
After getting a stop, the Esks went back to work on offence but Nichols escaped the pocket only to throw his second INT into the hands of DB Carlos Thomas. The Riders free agent acquisition from Hamilton took 30 yards down the sideline for the pick-six to take a 10-7 lead.
Making matters worse for Edmonton was Nichols who went down with an injury as he was blocked on the play. Just under seven months removed from a serious ankle injury, Nichols was helped off the field and later left the game under the assistance of crutches.
Nichols finished 5 of 7 for 88 yards and 2 interceptions in just under a quarter of work.
Entering earlier than expected, Mike Reilly took the helm with 46 seconds left in the first quarter but the Riders secondary also got after the former Lion, picking off a pass on his second possession.
Reilly would find his traction with just under five minutes remaining in the first half when he found rookie speedster Isaiah Sweeney down the sidelines for a 77-yard catch-and-run for a major and a 14-11 lead.
Reilly took the Esks to the locker room at halftime with the lead and finished 4 of 9 passing for 102 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
On the other sideline, Darian Durant played the entire second quarter behind centre for Saskatchewan and although he didn’t put any points on the board, he completed 8 of 11 passes for 117 yards and no interceptions.
Both teams began the second half with new pivots at the helm – Levi Brown and Jacory Harris for the Riders and Esks respectively. Brown left with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter to make way for Tino Sunseri.
The Pittsburgh product made his presence felt early, finding WR Greg Carr over the middle for a 50-yard gain on his first pass attempt. It helped set up a 27-yard Brody McKnight field goal to tie the game at 14.
The Esks would steal momentum back however, as rookie LB Ronnie Curran pounced on a ball fumbled by Phillip Livas on a punt return to set his team up on the Saskatchewan 7 yard line.
They wouldn’t wait to capitalize as Harris bounced outside on a quarterback draw a play later and leaped across the goal line for the score and a 21-14 lead to close out the third quarter. Harris left with Jonathan Crompton taking over in the fourth.
After McKnight added a 33-yard field goal, Sunseri marched his team down the field and tossed a game-tying touchdown to DeDe Dorsey with just under a minute left. The Newman pick-six came only three plays later to win the game.