EDMONTON — It wasn’t perfect but Trevor Harris and the Saskatchewan Roughriders got the job done by beating the Edmonton Elks 17-13 in a back-and-forth affair on Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium.
The veteran quarterback completed 20 of 33 passes for 179 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his regular season debut with the Riders. The 37-year-old completed passes to seven different receivers, including Shawn Bane Jr. with six catches and 36 yards and Derel Walker, who also scored his first touchdown as a Rider to go along three catches for 28 yards.
Holding on to a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Riders stared at the Elks offence with first-and-goal on the two-yard line but Saskatchewan’s defence came through with three straight stops on sneak attempts by backup quarterback Kai Locksley to stop Edmonton’s hopes of a comeback.
Taylor Cornelius connected with All-Star off-season reinforcement Eugene Lewis on a 102-yard touchdown in the losing effort for Edmonton, finishing with a 13 of 25 completions for 202 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Lewis finished with 148 yards and a score.
The game started with newcomer Lewis getting his first target as an Elk, but it ended in an incompletion after a big hit from safety Amari Henderson and the home team’s first drive of the evening ended in a punt.
Harris moved the ball a little on his first drive as a Rider but ultimately had to punt after a short pass to Bane Jr. fell short of the sticks and forced third down. Saskatchewan’s special teams pinned the Elks down on their own one-yard line with the kick.
Cornelius completed it to Emmanuel Arceneaux for seven yards on second down but Edmonton had to kick it back from their own end zone and returner Mario Alford returned it to the 45-yard line. An unnecessary roughness penalty added another 15 yards to the return to give Harris and the Riders the ball on Edmonton’s 30.
The quarterback immediately went to Samuel Emilus deep and drew a pass interference penalty to move the ball to the within four yards of the end-zone, before faking the defence with a play-action and finding Walker for the opening score of the game to make it 7-0 with the point after.
The next possession had the Elks converting a third down with Locksley, but a Jeremy Clark big hit on a screen to Dillon Mitchell behind the line of scrimmage on first down put the home team on second-and-15 and allowed the d-line to get to Cornelius with a sack by Micah Johnson.
A quick two-and-out for Saskatchewan gave Edmonton another chance on offence and they capitalized on it. First it was Lewis crossing the formation and catching a 12-yard pass, then an offside penalty on the Riders set up first-and-five and Cornelius found his new target again for 11 yards. The quarterback then took off himself for another 14 yards before finding running back Kevin Brown in the flat for another 17. After back-to-back incompletions, though, the Elks had to settle for a field goal, the first of Global kicker Dean Faithfull‘s career.
Jake Ceresna ended the Riders’ next drive with a sack on Harris but again punter Adam Korsak pinned the Elks deep into their own territory. No problem for Cornelius as he took advantage of the extra space to find Lewis deep down the left sideline and the veteran went up over the top to rip it away and run for a 102-yard go-ahead touchdown, 10-7.
The Riders almost put together an impressive drive of their own but a deep pass by Harris to Bane Jr. was ruled incomplete as the receiver nearly got his second foot inbounds for what would have been a highlight-reel play.
Another two-and-out by the Elks later brought Harris and co. back to the field deep into their own territory and the veteran quarterback kickstarted things with a run through the middle of Edmonton’s defence before finding Walker again for another first down. A fly-sweep to Bane Jr. moved the chains once more and Walker caught another one on a back-shoulder throw from his quarterback. Harris then found Emilus again in between Edmonton’s lines before the Elks’ defence held strong in the final five yards of the field to force the Riders to kick a game-tying field goal after a 13-play, 103-yard drive.
The Riders’ offence had another chance before the half to put together a scoring drive but defensive back Kai Gray jumped a pass intended for wide receiver Mitchell Picton for the first turnover of the game, but the Elks didn’t capitalize on the change of possession and had to punt it away.
Neither team scored after that — as Cornelius’ last pass attempt of the quarter was intercepted on a Hail Mary attempt by defensive back Jayden Dalke — and the score remained tied at 10 going into halftime.
Harris’ first drive of the second half almost ended in a touchdown pass to Emilus but the receiver could not come down with it after lunging to make the catch. A field goal miss by Brett Lauther made it 11-10 with the single.
The next drive featured Brown breaking tackles in the ground game to move the chains to position Faithfull for another field goal and make it 13-11 in favour of the home team.
Another round of punts by the two teams was stopped by the Riders as Harris completed five straight passes for 62yards before a horse-collar penalty added another 15 and gave Saskatchewan a first-and-goal from the eight-yard line. Two plays later it was third-and-goal with 2.5 yards to go and Jones opted for a field goal to retake the lead for the visitors, 14-13.
Two drives later, Cornelius was looking for Lewis on an out route to the right but defensive back Rolan Milligan Jr. cut the line of pass and came down with the Riders’ second interception of the game that gave just enough field position for another Lauther field goal to extend the lead to 17-13.
Saskatchewan’s defence forced yet another punt, but the Elks’ defence gave the ball right back to their offence with an interception on a stumbling Harris by linebacker Nyles Morgan that put the offence on the Riders’ 21-yard-line to start their drive. A pass interference penalty on Milligan Jr. made it first-and-goal from the two-yard line and the home team tried to push it in three times in a row with quarterback sneaks by Locksley and were denied in all of them by the visitors to keep the score intact with a little over three minutes left.
The Riders then marched down the field to ice the game with running backs Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson, giving the ball back to the Elks with two seconds to go. A final sack on Cornelius sealed the road win for Saskatchewan.
Both teams have tough West Division matchups in Week 2, with the Riders going home to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday, while the Elks travel to Vancouver to face the BC Lions on Saturday.