The Saskatchewan Roughriders win last Thursday over the Hamilton Tiger Cats began with a flourish and had a dramatic ending. In between there was a lot of grinding football. I thought a pair of stands by the Rider defence were key to the 24-19 victory.
The Tiger Cats opened an offence with new starter Dane Evans going deep. The pass never had a chance at completion with Loucheiz Purifoy in perfect position to intercept the ball. Evans said they were planning all week to take a shot deep to start the game.
Purifoy said they knew Hamilton would be throwing something deep early in the game. He said it did take a long time for the ball to reach him, but he high-pointed the pass and was ready to make the interception.
For the rest of the first half, the Riders generally controlled the ball but they missed a chance to score late in the second quarter when head coach Craig Dickenson did not call a timeout with 31 seconds to go in the half. He said he screwed up and that it was a coaching mistake. Many head coaches would not be as candid.
In the second half, it was the Tiger Cats that were in control. They whittled away and took the lead as the third quarter ended.
The Riders, especially on defence, were looking worn down. It appeared the schedule which had the Riders playing in five days versus seven days for the Tiger Cats was hurting the team. It does the league no good to create these time disadvantages.
After a two and out by the Rider offence to start the fourth quarter, the defence was back on the field. Hamilton looked unstoppable as they steadily moved down the field. The Tiger Cats had been on a 10 play drive to finish the third quarter and after eight plays of this drive had reached the Rider’s 16-yard line when the Rider defence made the pivotal play of the game.
The defensive line committed itself to an all-out rush and the pocket collapsed. As Evans tried to run out, he went to the turf. Evans said his foot was stepped on and he went down. He said it was especially frustrating as he had a guy open.
Rider defensive tackle Mak Henry said he brushed Evans with his shoulder sending the quarterback down.
It was a great defensive stand. Henry said the defence knew the game was on the line and banded together. Personally he had surged ahead gaining leverage and driving his blocker back on the play.
After a Rider drive that ended in a field goal, the defence took to the field with 2:47 to go knowing they had to make another stand to give the offence the chance to win the game.
Purifoy said they had energy left at the end of the game because of the Clinton Factor. He said their weightlifting coach, Clinton Spencer, has them in shape to battle to the end of games.
On first down the Tiger Cats sought to run a screen pass. They had been having good success with screen plays. Rider veteran defensive halfback Ed Gainey, in man coverage on Bralon Addison, said he saw the bubble before the play even developed and he shot in to make the tackle for a four-yard loss.
On second down, Evans tried to hit Marcus Tucker on a square on the left side. Rider corner Nick Marshall read the play and almost intercepted the ball. Evans thought he was behind on the ball and had he put the ball in front it could have been completed. I thought there was never a chance at completion.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo was justly praised for leading the offence on consecutive scoring drives to end the game, but it was the defence that reversed the momentum in the fourth quarter and sparked the Riders.