Defense ruled the day, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders built a big early lead, then held on to defeat the B.C. Lions 28-24 in the first game of the 2009 CFL regular season for both teams.
The first quarter opened with back-to-back turnovers, first by Saskatchewan, then by the Lions. The Riders then survived a fumble deep in B.C. territory, allowing quarterback Darian Durant to scramble 10 yards for a major score on the very next play. Luca Congi's convert put Saskatchewan on top 7-0 with 8:56 remaining in the opening quarter. The ensuing kickoff by Jamie Boreham kickoff resulted in a single, giving the Green-and-White an 8-0 lead. The Leos got points back late in the first, as Ryan Phillips returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown. Regina native Paul McCallum's convert brought B.C. to within one at 8-7, with 4:46 left in the first. The Riders started their next possession at their own 31 and five plays later, a 37-yard fieldgoal by Congi with 2:47 to go, put Saskatchewan up 11-7.
A Lions defensive stop on 3rd and inches on the final play of the opening quarter, gave B.C. the ball at the Riders' 48 to start the second, but McCallum missed a 48-yard fieldgoal attempt, bouncing the ball off the right upright. After a change of possessions, an Omarr Morgan interception and return set up Hugh Charles for a 2-yard touchdown run, with the Congi convert putting Saskatchewan up 18-7 with 10:16 left on the first-half clock. The flying Riders defense rushed McCallum hard on the next Leos possession, forcing him to drop the snap on a punt. Stu Foord picked up the loose ball and scooted 12 yards for the major score. The Congi convert with 8:43 left pushed the Saskatchewan lead to 25-7. Emmanuel Arceneaux caught a 23-yard touchdown pass on the next B.C. possession, with McCallum's convert with 2:18 left in the first half, bringing the Lions to within 11 points, at 25-14.
The third quarter was a direct contrast to the seemingly frenetic pace of the first half. Neither team had much luck offensively, as both squards cranked up the "D." Javier Glatt of B.C. intercepted a Durant pass, setting up the Lions deep in Rider territory. Buck Pierce ran it in from 6 yards out, but the two-point convert attempt failed with 1:39 remaining, leaving the Saskatchewan lead at 25-20 heading into the final quarter.
The lead shrunk to 25-21 as B.C's McCallum added a 38-yard punt single to open the 4th, but went back up to 7 at 28-21 with 8:12 left in regulation time, as Congi booted a 22 yard fieldgoal for the Riders. The Lions blocked a Boreham punt and recovered at the Saskatchewan 32 with 2:27 left, giving them an opportunity to tie the game. B.C. misfired on two straight plays, forcing them to settle for a 37-yard McCallum fieldgoal with 1:57 to go, to cut the lead to 28-24. The Lions kicked deep, then threw a late hit out-of-bounds, giving the Riders the ball at their own 25. Two plays gained only 9 yards, forcing Saskatchewan to punt the ball back to B.C. with 1:25 on the clock. Boreham's punt sailed over the returner's head and the Leos started their final possession at their own 25 with 1:13 remaining. B.C. got one first down, but then Stevie Baggs sacked Pierce for an 11-yard loss. An incomplete pass forced the Lions into a 3rd and 21 play, which they converted into a first down at the Riders' 54 with 34 seconds remaining. A tipped pass fell incomplete with 22 seconds left, then the Mosaic Stadium crown of 30,062 let out a huge sigh, as a wide-open Greg Heatherington dropped what could have been the winning score. B.C. inserted back-up quarterback Jarious Jackson for the final play, in a desperate attempt to get the ball to the endzone from near midfield. However, James Patrick made the clinching interception and Saskatchewan held on for the 28-24 opening night win.
Darian Durant was 18 of 32 passing for 313 yards with three interceptions thrown for the Riders, which got rushing touchdowns from Durant and Hugh Charles, plus two fieldgoals and three converts from Luca Congi. Weston Dressler had a big night receiving, grabbing 7 balls for 154 yards. Buck Pierce was 17 of 33 passing for 186 yards, a passing and a rushing touchdown and 2 interceptions for the Lions, who got a receiving touchdown from Emmanuel Arceneaux. Saskatchewan finished the night with 314 yards of total offense, while B.C. had 217 yards.
The craziest play of opening night came in the final minute of the first half. B.C. blocked a Jamie Boreham punt, but the Lions fumbled it back on the return, with Boreham making the recovery himself at his own 22. Omarr Morgan had three takeaways, two interceptions and a fumble recovery and also had six tackles. The fumble recovery set up Congi's fieldgoal halfway through the 4th quarter. The defenses were very active throughout the night, as Saskatchewan forced 7 turnovers, while the Lions took the ball away 8 times. The Riders are now 5-0-0 all-time with Durant as starting quarterback and 6-0-0 all-time in July under Head Coach Ken Miller.
Saskatchewan travels to Toronto on Saturday, July 11th to face the Argonauts, who won 30-17 at Hamilton this past Wednesday. Kickoff from the Rogers Centre on http://www.620ckrm.com is set for 1:00p.m. EDT.