REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders stopped the Edmonton Eskimos’ first drive of the season dead in its tracks.
That was about the only time that Ricky Ray and his offence had any trouble scoring.
The Eskimos scored on five straight first-half possessions as they opened up their CFL season with a convincing 42-28 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.
“I felt confident we had the capability to do something like this,” said Ray, who completed 21 of 27 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns. “We got off to a great start. We kind of gave them a little up and go at the beginning and it was a great call by (offensive co-ordinator) Marcus (Crandall) that got us in the end zone and Jason Barnes made another great catch over the top of a defender.”
Jason Barnes carved up the Riders’ secondary, scoring touchdowns on two straight drives, and led all Eskimo receivers with five receptions for 104 yards.
Despite the lopsided win against a strong West Division, Edmonton rookie head coach Kavis Reed refused to call the game an upset.
“I’d say we played a really good game against a very good team and we came out with a win,” he said.
“It was a very strong performance, but there are still a lot of things that we need to improve on. I hope nobody is preparing a parade route because we have a lot of things that we need to work on and improve on.”
Rider head coach Greg Marshall was not happy that his team turned the ball over four times – including three interceptions thrown by quarterback Darian Durant – and allowed Ray to get into a rhythm.
“We allowed Ricky Ray to get too comfortable in the pocket,” said Marshall, who also made his debut as a head coach. “He had too much time to throw the ball and got in a rhythm. When we got pressure he was already comfortable.
“I wasn’t planning on going undefeated. I’m disappointed we suffered a loss today, but it’s a long season.”
On their second possession after starting the game going two-and-out, Ray connected with Barnes for a 35-yard touchdown pass on a pump and go that the Riders’ defensive backs jumped.
After watching Saskatchewan tie the game with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Durant to Efram Hill, Ray found Barnes in the back of the end zone again, this time for a 14-yard strike.
Edmonton (1-0) followed that drive up with a pair of Damon Duval field goals and before Daniel Porter led them back into the end zone on a five-yard run, giving Edmonton a commanding 27-10 lead.
Eddie Johnson kicked a 43-yard field goal for Saskatchewan (0-1) between Duval’s second field goal and Porter’s touchdown.
Edmonton’s offence struggled after that, managing only a punt single, until Weldon Brown intercepted a Durant pass that was tipped by Rider receiver Terrance Nunn. After that, Ray quickly marched the 45 yards in five plays, connecting with Adarius Bowman for a four-yard touchdown pass, to put Edmonton up 35-20.
Bowman, who started his career with Saskatchewan, finished the game with seven catches for 103 yards.
Kerry Joseph wrapped up Edmonton’s scoring with a one-yard quarterback sneak from one yard out.
Wes Cates scored a touchdown on a 24-yard run in the second quarter and Durant found Jason Clermont for a 22-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter for Saskatchewan’s other touchdowns.
Johnson also added a 22-yard field goal and a 63-yard punt single to round out the scoring.
Durant completed 27 of 37 passes in the game for 339 yards.
Saskatchewan’s Weston Dressler led all receivers with seven catches for 109 yards.
Both Saskatchewan and Edmonton will return to action July 9. Saskatchewan will host the Montreal Alouettes in a Grey Cup rematch while Edmonton will try to remain on top of the West Division when Hamilton pays them a visit.
Notes: The game was delayed 20 minutes by a hail storm … Durant moved into fourth place on the Roughriders’ all-time completion list with 835, surpassing Tom Burgess’ mark of 827.