REGINA – The Ottawa REDBLACKS played in their first ever pre-season game Saturday afternoon but Marshay Green’s 75-yard punt return touchdown helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders capture a 21-17 win.
Billed as a home game for Ottawa, the contest was played at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium as the REDBLACKS await TD Place Stadium to meet completion.
It didn’t take long for REDBLACKS fans to witness their first highlight. Ball State grad WR Jamill Smith fielded a punt early in the first quarter, bounced outside and raced down the near sideline for a 76-yard return. Ottawa’s first big play brought them down to the 2-yard line where Chevon Walker would punch it in from a play later.
Walker’s major gave the REDBLACKS an early 7-0 lead.
Two possessions later, Ottawa would add to its lead when QB Henry Burris found receiver Marcus Henry for a one-handed 11-yard snag to set up a 44-yard Justin Palardy field goal.
That would signify the end of Burris’ day as rookie Danny O’Brien entered with 2:11 left in the opening quarter. O’Brien, out of Catawba College, would go two-and-out on his first possession and it would prove to be costly.
Not letting Smith outshine in the return game, Green made the most of his first CFL touch. The Mississippi grad got under a punt, made a number of moves and burst up field, navigating his way through would-be Ottawa tacklers. He didn’t stop until he recorded a 77-yard punt return touchdown to cut the REDBLACKS lead to 10-7 with 58 seconds remaining in the first frame.
With Drew Willy now a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Tino Sunseri is the likely candidate to backup Darian Durant. The sophomore pivot started for the Riders and played the entire first half before Durant entered.
If anyone thought that Durant had acquired rust after his Grey Cup Championship last year, they were quickly proven wrong. The face of the franchise promptly orchestrated a 10-play, 88-yard drive capped off by an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brett Swain to give the Riders a 14-10 lead.
Durant’s day finished when the first half did and he exited with 76 yards and 1 touchdown on 7 of 8 passing.
He then stood back and watched the battle taking place in the backfield as the Riders search for their Kory Sheets replacement at running back. In the first half it was Anthony Allen and Jermaine Thomas splitting reps and combining for 58 yards.
Keith Toston would start at tailback as the second half began and wasted little time making an impact, ripping off a 38-yard run. With Adam Weber now at the helm, the Minnesota grad would engineer an impressive drive to start the third. First finding finding DeMarco Sampson for a 35-yard gain before connecting with Swain who hauled in his second major of the game. This one, from four yards out, gave Saskatchewan a 21-10 lead at the 10:29 mark.
Weber finished 2 of 4 before giving way to Seth Doege.
Taking over the Ottawa offence in the second half was former BC Lions pivot Thomas DeMarco. DeMarco was picked up in the CFL Expansion Draft last December and after starting off modestly, the young quarterback took a shot downfield and didn’t miss.
In the third quarter, DeMarco stepped into a pass and dropped it right into the hands of receiver Travon Patterson who found completed the 60-yard touchdown play and cut the Rider lead to 21-17.
DeMarco played until the midway point of the fourth quarter before Alex Cardner finished up the game.
Ottawa will make the trip to Montreal next Friday to close out their first pre-season but the Riders will remain at home to host the Edmonton Eskimos.