REGINA — Ken Miller hopes his first game back as the Roughriders head coach proves to be a turning point in Saskatchewan’s so far dismal season.
Chris Getzlaf caught two of Darian Durant’s three touchdown passes as the CFL-worst Roughriders snapped a four-game losing streak with a 27-7 victory Sunday over the league-best Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It was Miller’s first game since replacing fired head coach Greg Marshall after the Riders fell to 1-7 two weeks ago. Miller previously guided the team from 2008-10, taking Saskatchewan to the Grey Cup in each of the last two years.
“I think it’s the real deal,” said Miller. “I think it would have been easy for adversity to strike and maybe for us to go the other way, but I think this is something that is consistent with the character of the men that we have in that locker room.
“We do have a lot of work to do but we made a big step today.”
The Riders (2-7) remain in the West Division basement but all the talk about turning things around seems, at least for the moment, like it might actually be possible.
“The thing I tried to do was … just have players be accountable, have them play with confidence, have them play with energy, and then simply put – to improve our execution,” added Miller.
“And that’s what we did.”
Winnipeg (7-2) came in with plenty of swagger – winners of five straight and unbeaten on the road – but it quickly turned to despair as the Saskatchewan defence came out swinging before a sell-out crowd of 30,048 at Mosaic Stadium.
The Bombers didn’t get on the scoreboard until midway through the second quarter, on a punt single from Justin Palardy, and ended the game without a touchdown.
Their first four possessions were marked by three two-and-outs and a missed 37-yard field goal by Palardy, who finished 2-for-3 kicking on successful tries of 22 and 39 yards.
“Before the game I asked them to play for themselves, play for their families, and play for each other,” Miller said of his defence. “And I think that’s what you saw today.”
Getzlaf’s 38-yard TD reception in the first quarter gave Saskatchewan its first lead since the third quarter of a July 30 loss to Calgary, and he capped off the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth.
Dressler had the Riders’ other major, a diving one-handed grab from 21 yards out on Saskatchewan’s first possession of the third quarter.
Any thoughts of a late Winnipeg comeback were dashed in the fourth as the Bombers turned the ball over on all four possessions.
Jerrell Freeman sacked quarterback Buck Pierce to force a fumble on Winnipeg’s opening drive, and the Bombers proceeded to twice turn the ball over on downs after that.
A last ditch effort came up flat when Freeman intercepted backup Alex Brink in the final minute of play.
Saskatchewan kicker Chris Milo recovered from a 1-for-3 performance in his last game against Toronto, making both attempts Sunday from 12 and 27 yards.
“It kind of got us rolling a bit,” Getzlaf said of the game’s opening score. “It was a great play call and (Durant) threw me a very good ball. When we get the crowd into it like that it’s going to be trouble for the other team.”
Durant finished 13-of-21 passing for 232 yards with no interceptions, while running back Wes Cates, who missed four games with injury, ran 18 times for 45 yards.
“I felt pretty good actually,” said Durant. “I got into the rhythm and the flow of the game and that made it a little easier. Having Wes back too helped us out a lot getting those tough yards.”
Pierce went 20-for-28 for 209 yards before giving way to Brink, who finished 3-of-7 for 25 yards and one interception. Winnipeg’s Kito Poblah, also returning from injury, led all receivers with nine catches for 89 yards.
A trio of fourth-quarter scuffles saw the teams ultimately combine for 251 yards in penalties, including the fourth quarter ejections of Winnipeg defensive back Brandon Stewart and slotback Cory Watson.
The next game for both teams is a rematch next Sunday in Winnipeg.
“Our record is 2-7 but that doesn’t mean we have to end up with two wins,” said Miller. “When I talked to the team the very first time, I talked to them about competing and winning the Grey Cup, and that’s the direction we’re headed.
“The fact that we won and really kind of won convincingly is going to help people believe that we have an opportunity to continue in that way.”