Derek Dennis was spat on, players went down with injuries left and right and Brandon Bridge had a historic night as the Roughriders defeated the Hamilton Tiger-cats 27-19.
Head coach Chris Jones was proud of the effort his team put in to get past the Ticats, especially given players were slotted into defensive positions they weren’t used to.
“We had (Denzel) Radford, a rookie, at free safety because we lost Mike Edem and we had Jeff Knox playing Sam linebacker in man coverage on one of their receivers … so I’m really proud of them,” Jones said after the game.
Brandon Bridge, making his first start since he was with the Montreal Alouettes in 2015 went 21 for 31 with three touchdowns, a feat that a Canadian quarterback hasn’t reached since 1984.
The offence fired on all cylinders in the first half of the game and it was that strong play by the offence, paired with big defensive plays where they were necessary that brought the team the win in the end.
Despite coming away with the win, and the notable line in the history books, Bridge wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance, especially in the second half.
“At the quarterback position, everything is on you. A couple of plays they were there and I didn’t take it, probably didn’t trust, so it’s definitely on me. I got to get better,” he said.
“The ending isn’t how we would have liked but the outcome was. Obviously, we were up by 17 points at one time and we made it harder on ourselves … we’ve got to learn to finish,” Bridge added
With just seven points scored by the Riders offence in the second half of the game, the defence was asked to step up: and they did.
Ed Gainey continued his defensive dominance, adding two interceptions to his tally. He now has a league-leading eight of them.
The defence also came up big with two forced fumbles – which they also recovered – and stops and knockdowns when the Tiger-cats were knocking on the door. Spencer Moore also added a forced fumble on special teams, but it was recovered by the Ticats.
“Sometimes defensively you’re asked you’re asked to go out and win the game when your offence is having trouble,” Jones said. “There’s going to come a time when offensively they’ll have to do the same. That’s why they call it a football TEAM.”
But perhaps the most shocking moment of the game didn’t come from a Naaman Roosevelt touchdowns or an interception in the end zone but when defensive back Demond Washington was ejected from the game for spitting on Roughrider offensive lineman Derek Dennis.
Dennis said it started with a misunderstanding and then it escalated rapidly from there.
“I guess he thought I was trying to be with dirty him, when I really wasn’t, just an accidental hand hit him. I guess it hit him in the stomach or somewhere,” he explained. “He came up to me talking mess. I just told him like ‘you’re just a little DB I’m not going to sit here and argue with you for no reason, if you really got a problem with me we can address it later’ and I guess he took it upon himself to spit in my face.”
Dennis was understandably shocked and angered by the reaction, but he realized it wasn’t the time or the place.
“I know that winning the game is more important to me than settling personal beefs, but I’m not happy about it,” he said.
Alongside the ejection, the Tiger-cats were penalized 25 yards, which in the end turned into a Roughrider touchdown to Roosevelt, but it doesn’t take away the ill feelings.
“It definitely (helped), but you can’t spit in somebody’s face, that’s disrespectful,” Roosevelt said.
The win puts the Riders back in the win column after a loss to Winnipeg last week and bringing them back above .500 with six wins and five loss.
But the win didn’t come without a cost, head coach Chris Jones said eight players went down in the game including Otha Foster, Mike Edem, Brendon LaBatte and Duron Carter.
The long-term status of any of the Riders’ injured players was unknown after the game.
The Riders got on the board late in the first quarter after Jeff Hecht forced a fumble out of the hands of Mike Jones. The ball was scooped up by Mike Edem and brought down on the five-yard line.
In for short yardage, Vernon Adams was unable to find the red zone and Tyler Crapigna kicked a 15-yard field goal with 3:29 left in the first.
Marcus Thigpen went on to return the ball 47 yards after a Hamilton 2 and out, but on the ensuing drive Bridge was sacked by Simoni Lawrence, fumbling the ball himself and it was recovered by Hamilton’s Davon Coleman.
The Riders forced and two and out and the quarter ended 3-0.
In their first possession of the second quarter, Bridge marched the team 75 yards down the field to find Devon Bailey in the end zone, the Riders were buoyed on the drive by an illegal contact penalty and a 27-yard pass to Bakari Grant and went up 10-0 with 11:41 left in the first half. The offence didn’t go without the ball for long. Kacy Rodgers forced the football from the arms of Jalen Saunders, defensive lineman Tobi Antigha recovered it and the offence went another 31 yards down the field to the end zone.
The offence didn’t go without the ball for long. Kacy Rodgers forced the football from the arms of Jalen Saunders, defensive lineman Tobi Antigha recovered it leading to another Riders touchdown. With 9:04 left in the second the Riders were up 17-0.
The Ticats got their first first down of the game as well as their first touchdown on the next drive burning three minutes off the clock and stringing together a 75-yard drive, capped by a 36-yard touchdown pass to Saunders.
The Riders responded with a 42-yard field goal making it 20-7 with 2:05 remaining in the half.
The Ticats tacked on a field goal of their own with eight seconds left in the second quarter. The Roughriders held a 20-10 lead at halftime.
But the strong success the Rider offence experience in the first half sputtered in the second.
The team traded two and outs before a big return from Hamilton put them on the Riders 38-yard line, but Ed Gainey swooped in for his league-leading seventh interception of the season to give the ball back to the green and white.
Three plays later – buoyed by 25-yard penalty due to the disqualification of Ticat Demon Washington for spitting on Riders offensive lineman Derek Dennis – Bridge found Naaman Roosevelt on seven-yard line and he ran it in for his seventh touchdown of the season.
With 9:06 left in the third, the Riders went up 29-10.
The Ticats added a 51-yard field goal by Sergio Castillo with 4:37 left in the third.
The Riders remained up 27-13 at the end of the third, but Hamilton added another field goal just 28 seconds into the fourth to make it 27-16.
An impressive 59 yard drive by the Ticats was ended on the Saskatchewan 16-yard line after Masoli was intercepted by Gainey for the second time.
A Roughrider two and out put the Ticats back on the field quickly and Hamilton marched 54 yards down the field over four minutes but settled for a field goal. With 2:52 to go the Riders were hanging on to an eight-point lead.
And while it may have felt to some that the game was slipping away from the Riders, a defiant Jones stated firmly it had not.
“We won the ballgame, we won the ball game, just for your information y’all we won the football game. It was a tough game with a backup quarterback and playing with nine guys injured. So we won the game. On the road. On a short week. We’re a good football team, don’t get it twisted,” he said.
With the final seconds ticking down and the ball back in the Ticats hands, Rodgers was called for pass interference in the end zone, putting the Ticats on the one-yard line.
Masoli, however, couldn’t connect with Saunders in the end zone and the game ended with the Riders in the win column.
The Roughriders next match up is the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday.