It’s been three seasons, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders finally find themselves with a winning record.
The Riders won their third straight on Sunday, beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 38-24, in the Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium.
The win improved the Riders’ record to 5-4 on the year, which is the first time since the end of the 2014 season that they’ve had a record above the .500 mark.
“It feels good,” said Quarterback Kevin Glenn on the three-game winning streak. “We said it best in the locker room, it’s been team effort, it hasn’t been one side of the ball, it’s been all three phases, and the guys understand that and they see it developing and they believe in it now, when you start believing in it like this, you can start rolling off a lot of wins.”
Since losing to the B.C. Lions, 30-15, in Week 7, the Riders have found another gear in their game with all three phases coming up big at key times to help them to three straight lopsided wins over West Division opponents.
The Riders’ offence carried a lot of the load in Sunday’s win with 458 total yards, but the defence came up with key stops at key times and the special teams made big plays when they needed to as well.
“We know that going into the game, we’ve got to be solid in all phases of the game and when that momentum gets taken away from us, we’ve got to find a way to get it back. If the offence doesn’t do their job than we’ve got to come out as a defence and get them two-and-out or get a turnover,” said Defensive Back Ed Gainey, who finished with two picks in the game, giving him six in his past two games at Mosaic Stadium.
Gainey’s first interception was a part of a five-minute stretch at the end of the first quarter that saw the Riders explode for 21 points to jump out to a 24-3 lead after one on the Bombers.
After the teams traded field goals on their opening drive, the Riders found their footing when Kevin Glenn connected with a wide open Naaman Roosevelt for a 53-yard touchdown.
Gainey’s pick came on the next offensive play for the Bombers and two plays later, back-up quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was crossing the goal line for another Riders’ touchdown.
After quick two-and-out by the Bombers and a big punt return by Nic Demski, Rob Bagg hauled in his first touchdown in 11 months on a nine-yard pass from Glenn.
That quick start was huge for the Riders as it gave them some cushion to work with against the Bombers, who came into Sunday’s meeting on a five-winning streak and clicking offensively.
“It doesn’t matter who’s playing in the game, if a team gets a quick, fast start like that, typically you can control the game and that’s what we did tonight,” said Glenn.
This was the 200th career start for Glenn, who continues to impress in his 17th season in the CFL. Glenn completed 26-of-36 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
The Riders had three receivers cross over the 100-yard threshold. Bakari Grant finished with seven catches for a game-high 139 yards, while Roosevelt had six grabs for 119 yards and a touchdown.
Duron Carter hauled in ten passes – including a highlight reel one-handed over the middle late in the second quarter – for 101 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s exciting, when you’ve got D.C. making one-handed catches, you’ve got Bakari out there making plays and the things he do, you’ve got Rob Bagg scoring touchdowns, you’ve got Demski out there balling, so it’s just exciting to see and I just want to go out there and make plays and do what I can to help the team out in anyway,” said Roosevelt.
Defensively, the Riders did a good job of containing Andrew Harris, who had been running wild on the league during the Bombers’ run. Harris finished with just 29 yards rushing on nine carries and was Winnipeg’s top receiver with ten catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
The Bombers were able to move the ball on the Riders’ defence, but struggled to finish off drives, including a big goal line stand early in the fourth quarter that saw Matt Nichols throw incomplete on three straight passes to keep Saskatchewan in front by three scores.
Nichols finished 35-of-47 for 364 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions
After the Bombers cut that lead to 37-23, Gainey came up with his second interception of the game at the goal line with just 2:16 remaining in the game to keep Winnipeg out of the end zone again.
Riders head coach Chris Jones said they will need to clean up their play defensively if they hope to win in Winnipeg next week.
“When you give up 400 yards of offence, you can never say that you played great, so we’ve got to go back and look at the plays that they hit us on and eliminate those,” said Jones, who is still concerned about how the Riders are finishing games after getting out to big leads over the past two weeks.
“We’ve yet to figure that out completely, we’ve got to make sure that we shut the door on people when we jump out to a lead.”
The Riders did suffer a couple of key injuries in the game with running back Cameron Marshall going down late in the second quarter and Demski leaving the game as well. Both are doubtful for next week according to Jones.
Saskatchewan will head to Winnipeg on Saturday for the Banjo Bowl rematch and they know they have a tough test in front of them.
“They’re going to be upset, their Winnipeg fans are going to be upset, so I expect them to be loud, but we’ve experienced that road trip win in Edmonton so we understand what we need to do and how we need to do it,” said Glenn.