REGINA — It was a drive Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant hopes will turn the team’s offensive struggles around.
Durant helped engineer an 11-yard touchdown after an eight-play, 91-yard drive in the fourth quarter to secure the Riders’ 27-23 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Labour Day Classic on Sunday.
The TD put Saskatchewan (6-3) ahead 25-17 after its offence laboured through the first three quarters.
“It was just time for us to make plays,” said Durant, who completed 23-of-35 passes for 301 yards and an interception.
“We’ve been messing around for too long now. Starting this game is where we really need to pick up our play and get ready for the stretch run and hopefully we can build on that.”
Although the Riders’ offence got rolling in the fourth quarter, it relied on the defence to keep them in the game.
Defensive back Chris McKenzie tipped a Buck Pierce pass to James Patrick, who intercepted the pass and returned it to Winnipeg’s 45-yard line, on the first play of the second quarter. Wes Cates scored from two yards out four plays later to give Saskatchewan an 11-3 lead.
Rider linebacker Barrin Simpson recovered a Pierce fumble in the third quarter to set up a six-play, 43-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a one-yard Cates run, which put Saskatchewan up 18-10.
“Our defence was just phenomenal,” said head coach Ken Miller. “One of the things we talk about with our defence is to create takeaways and score or set up scores and our defence did that. It was great for our offence that our defence was able to do that.”
“We’re much more comfortable with each other,” added Simpson. “We’re much more comfortable executing our scheme and what it’s like for us to do with multiple defence. We do a lot of things, so it took us a few games to get comfortable with it, but we’re good to go now.”
The Riders’ defence also managed to knock Pierce out of the game late in the fourth quarter when the Bombers’ quarterback fell in the end zone, dislocating his right elbow when it hit Jerrell Freeman’s face guard.
The Bombers don’t believe Pierce will be back Sept. 12 when Winnipeg (2-7) hosts Saskatchewan in the Banjo Bowl.
While he was in the game, Pierce, who completed 21-of-29 passes for 243 yards, did manage to set up three Justin Palardy field goals — from 27, 26 and nine yards out — in the first half.
Pierce also drove Winnipeg 21 yards in the third quarter to set up a three-yard Fred Reid touchdown run that cut Saskatchewan’s lead to 18-17.
Steven Jyles, who replaced Pierce, connected with Adarius Bowman for a seven-yard touchdown pass on Winnipeg’s final offensive series to make the score 27-23.
Johnson added a punt single and kickoff single in the fourth quarter while Palardy added a single from a missed field goal in the third quarter to round out the scoring.
Winnipeg head coach Paul LaPolice, put the blame on himself for the Bombers’ failures.
“I felt (the players’) effort was awesome and I don’t want them walking out of that room saying they could have done more. I know they will but they played their tail off,” he said.
“We didn’t get enough touchdowns tonight. I know they do a great job on defence and they’ve done a real good job the last couple weeks, but we have (to) put points on the board.”
NOTES: Congi’s field goal moved him past Jack Abendschen and into third place on the Roughriders’ all-time list for most field goals made with 160. . . Avonlea, a community of 400 people located approximately 60-kilometres southwest of Regina, won the Where is Riderville contest held by the Riders.