Roughriders head coach Chris Jones didn’t want to call it a statement game, but his team certainly did make quite the statement Friday night in Edmonton.
Coming off back-to-back blowouts of western opponents the Riders are out to prove they’re the real deal. With a 54-31 win over the Eskimos on Friday night, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
“That’s up to y’all to decide all that if it’s a statement or not,” Jones said to reporters after the game. “We just wanted to win our next game which happened to be here, on the road, against a very good opponent.”
A very good opponent indeed. Few gave the Roughriders a fighting chance against the league’s number one team. Those who did didn’t predict the battering the Riders gave Edmonton in all three phases.
While Jones was hesitant to label the game as anything other than a good showing for his team, receiver Duron Carter was ready to put the rest of the league on notice.
“It definitely was a statement game. We’re here to make a playoff run,” said Carter, who scored a touchdown and ran a missed convert back 113 yards for two points in the match up.
“I think we came out to play,” quarterback Kevin Glenn said. “Every phase of the — team defence, special teams — we all scored and when you can put together games like that … it’s going to look like this a lot.”
This was a sight for sore eyes for many Roughrider faithful who hadn’t seen their team win on the road since 2014.
“It was a big focus. We know the stats, they say them all the time on TV,” Carter said. “We had to come out and play a complete game especially on the road and we played like this was our home.”
The actual home team didn’t stand a chance tonight.
The Rider defence had two interceptions for touchdowns and three fumble recoveries. On special teams, Willie Jefferson blocked a punt then ran it back into the end zone for a major. All three Riders quarterbacks put touchdowns on the board.
“It’s something that I think we want to pride ourselves on, playing like a team, like a family, everyone together and that’s what happened tonight,” Glenn said.
Coming into the game, the Riders said they were looking for a strong start against the Eskimos and they got just that.
By half-time all three facets of the game had fired on all cylinders, contributing to a 26-6 lead over their western division rivals.
The Rider offence got the scoring going on its second possession of the game. Starting on their own 39-yard line, Glenn orchestrated a 71-yard drive down field aided by a 28-yard catch by Naaman Roosevelt who went on to finish the drive with an outstanding leaping touchdown catch to put the Riders up 7-0.
It was only the beginning. Glenn finished the game with 240 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception. Roosevelt was the team’s top’s receiver with 81 yards and a touchdown.
But the offence wouldn’t have been in a position to score had the Roughrider defence not taken advantage of when Reilly fumbled. A botched snap allowed Ese Mrabure to bring in the loose football to get the offence on the field.
Riders special teams were the next to get in on the action when Willie Jefferson blocked Grant Shaw’s punt then rushed down the field to scoop up the football and run it in for a touchdown.
The green and white ended the first period with 14 points on the board and kept the Esks off the scoreboard.
However, buoyed by back-to-back illegal contact penalties Reilly was able to find the end zone with help from a spectacular 33-yard catch by Brandon Zylstra that put Edmonton on the one-yard line.
Reilly plunged in for the touchdown, however, the point after was blocked by Saskatchewan allowing Carter to return the ball for two points making the score 16-6 instead of 14-7.
“It seemed like everybody was just going left and I saw I had a few blockers to the right and wheeled it back around,” Carter explained. “I turned into my track star and I had to keep on going.”
“That’s the farthest I’ve ever run I’ll tell you that.”
The Roughriders offence continued to have a successful half adding a 21-yard field goal after Vernon Adams came in for Glenn.
The move seemed to throw Glenn off his rhythm a little bit, and a ball intended for Roosevelt uncharacteristically ricocheted off his hands and into Eskimos defender Adams for an interception.
Fortunately, as was the case for most of the game, the defence held the line and Edmonton was unable to capitalize.
With a little more than a minute to go the Riders marched down the field and just as it seemed the drive would end in a field goal, Glenn found Cameron Marshall under immense Eskimos pressure and Marshall scampered, twirled and leaped the ball into the end zone to give the Riders a 26-6 lead going into half time.
In the end, Marshall had 11 touches for 105 yards and a touchdown.
The defensive dominance continued into the third quarter, never allowing Reilly get comfortable and forcing three two and outs before Jovon Johnson intercepted him and ran it back 40 yards to pay dirt.
Earlier in the season, Johnson was cut by the Montreal Alouettes, but Johnson has become a linchpin in the Riders’ secondary.
“His fastest days are behind him but he does a real nice job of finding the football and getting his hands on the football,” Jones said of the veteran.
“The young guys are starting to come into their own a little bit. I think certainly (Johnson’s) confidence as a player and a leader has been something for our group,” he added.
And speaking of that young secondary, after seeing what Johnson did, Kacey Rodgers decided to get in on the action himself, intercepting Reilly for a pick six of his own.
The Riders went up 40-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
In a game that was all Riders, the Eskimos finally caught a break when Nic Demski missed the punt return and the football was collected Cauchy Muamba in the end zone.
After a successful two-point conversion, it was 40-15.
But the Roughriders defence wasn’t done. Under pressure from Willie Jefferson, Reilly was able to get the ball out to Cory Watson, but he fumbled it and Erick Dargan scooped it up to give the Riders the ball back on the 21-yard line.
Unable to find the end zone, Tyler Crapigna went in for a 23-yard field goal, which he made, but an Edmonton offside gave the Roughriders a fresh set of downs.
With a comfortable lead already on the board, the newest Roughrider quarterback Vernon Adams came in for the red zone series and rushed in for the Roughriders’ sixth touchdown of the game.
Garbage time saw more touchdowns from both teams’ back ups. Edmonton back up James Franklin marched his team downfield twice for touchdowns and Brandon Bridge found Duron Carter for one as well.
The win leaves the Riders right in the hunt for a western playoff spot, just one win off the B.C. Lions and two off the Calgary Stampeders.