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VANCOUVER — Despite losing their starting quarterback at halftime, the Saskatchewan Roughriders gutted out a 20-16 win over BC after the Lions guaranteed a victory.
As if these two Western rivals needed any more motivation, fuel was placed on the fire and bulletin board material flew in the days leading into the battle. First, the Roughriders took out a billboard advertisement in downtown Vancouver with the phrase ‘Green is the new orange’. The lofty decision prompted BC Lions president Dennis Skulsky to go on the record and guarantee a win by his club.
With the Lions falling however, the club will now make good on its promise to provide free tickets to fans for an upcoming game later in the season.
Early on, Tim Brown made his boss’ words rein true, taking the opening kickoff back 48 yards to help set up a 38-yard Paul McCallum field goal. After the Leos forced the Riders to a two-and-out, Brown struck again but this time he wouldn’t settle for a field goal.
Brown fielded a punt, split a pair of would-be tacklers, and raced 75 yards to the house to give the Leos a dream start, up 10-0 just over five minutes in.
Looking to take back some of the early momentum provided by Brown, Darian Durant strung together a set of first downs, including a plays designed for Chris Getzlaf and Will Ford to set up a 42-yard Chris Milo field goal to start the second quarter.
With the second quarter winding down, Kevin Glenn led what would be his best series of the half, handing off to Andrew Harris for 10 yards, Shawn Gore on an end-around for 26 and then completing passes to Gore for 25 and Courtney Taylor for 26. Threatening six, the Riders got a huge play from Tyron Brackenridge who timed a safety blitz perfectly and got to Glenn forcing McCallum to boot a 16-yard field goal.
The Riders would answer with a field goal of their own, from 12 yards out, on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 13-6 with 2:31 remaining in the first half.
Saskatchewan got a quick stop and continued to chip away at the Leos lead before the break. Hemmed deep inside his own end, Durant took over with 1:42 on the clock and quickly found Getzlaf for 18 yards, ran for another 12 himself and absorbed a hit from BC DL Khalif Mitchell. Mitchell’s hit was deemed late and Durant built on the 15 yards he was given by finding Rob Bagg over the middle for a 26-yard catch-and-run.
An incompletion, combined with a running clock, forced the Riders to kick a field goal on second down with five seconds remaining in the half to enter the locker room stuck just four, 13-9.
The story at halftime focused primarily on Durant however, who tested out his injury when the teams came on to the field for second half warmups but had to defer to backup Tino Sunseri for the remainder of the game.
Sunseri was solid in relief, completing 8 of 13 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps more importantly, he didn’t throw an interception.
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Sunseri wasted little time testing the Lions secondary, heaving a ball deep to a wide open Bagg who would have walked into the end zone for an 86-yard touchdown but flat out dropped the pass.
The two clubs traded field goals on their second and third possessions respectively before Sunseri turned to the duel threat of Ford and Anthony Allen on the ground. The two tailbacks helped the Riders pound the rock down the field and setting up a first-and-goal situation on the Lions two yard line.
The running backs did the work but the most unlikely of sources completed the drive. Sunseri faked a handoff to Ford and lobbed the ball into the endzone to an open Dan Clark. The hulking offensive lineman showed stretched out, in what could be deemed an athletic play by any player, and hauled in his second career touchdown to put the Riders up 19-16 heading into the fourth quarter.
With the guarantee at stake and the injury to Durant, lost in the headlines was a superb performance by the Rider rushers. Ford and Allen combined for 191 yards with the former claiming 108 of them.
With Durant already out of the game and Mike Reilly leaving early in Edmonton’s contest versus Toronto on Saturday, another pivot in the West went down to injury with 5:38 on the clock. Glenn got rolled up on after sliding out of the way of a tackle and left the game.
Enter Travis Lulay who took over the offence after sitting out the majority of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. The former CFL Most Outstanding Player (2010), ran onto the field to an ovation from the Lions faithful.
Lulay’s one quick pass wasn’t enough to get a first down and the Lions were forced to punt. BC got a stop on the ensuing possession, despite a 29-yard completion from Sunseri to Bagg, but had to concede a very important single point when a Josh Bartel boot went into the end zone.
The rouge put the Riders up by four with exactly two minutes remaining on the clock.
Lulay and the Leos went two-and-out following the single and then it was up to Allen to eat the clock for the Riders. With 1:08 on the clock, Allen muscled his way to a first down and in doing so, was able to bring the clock down to 40 seconds with one more run.
BC took over one more shot down field but could not pull out the win.
Making matters worse for BC was the fact that they also lost Solomon Elimimian in the contest to what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
The Roughriders now prepare for their annual home-and-home with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, first with the Labour Day weekend game and then the ‘Banjo Bowl’.
Meanwhile, the Lions will head into a bye week before returning in Week 11 to take on the Ottawa REDBLACKS.