Some gutsy play calling paired with a late touchdown sealed the Labour Day Classic for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
With a 24-23 lead and two minutes left the Roughriders offence could have been conservative on their second and three play call but instead, they went big. Quarterback Zach Collaros aired it out 39 yards to Jordan Williams-Lambert and put the offence on the three-yard line.
“Just, in my opinion, a big-time call by Coach (Stephen McAdoo). Kind of knew with that situation what (Winnipeg) likes to do defensively and he trusted us to make the play there,” said quarterback Zach Collaros.
“I thought Mac (McAdoo) did a great job calling the game late … where it really mattered and gave them some opportunities,” head coach Chris Jones added.
The play turned into a one-yard rush into the end zone for short yardage quarterback Nick Marshall – his second of the afternoon – and gave the Roughriders a 31-23 lead that held to the end of the game.
It came at a much needed time for the Roughriders who depended on their defence and special teams to put up the points in the first half.
First, an interception by linebacker Matt Elam put the green and white on the one-yard line which was promptly marched in by Marshall. Then rookie receiver Kyran Moore came up in the clutch with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second.
Despite being down 17-14 in the half, these plays kept the Roughriders in the game for them to rebound both offensively and defensively in the second half.
“(We) certainly have not played our best football and are fortunate to have gotten the win,” head coach Chris Jones said post-game. “(We) probably played our worst defence in quite some time.”
But the defence tightened up in the second half just like the offence did. After allowing Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris to rush for 105 yards in the first half, the defence tightened up holding the league’s top running back to just 53 in the second half.
“We just showed that when we play as a team we can do good things,” said receiver Naaman Roosevelt who caught seven receptions for 86 yards. “The first half wasn’t good and we knew that but we came on in the second and we fought as a team and it showed.”
The Riders offence also got a spark from running back Marcus Thigpen who saw more touches in the second half and allowed the run game to get going. Collaros also trusted Thigpen’s hands and they connected for two receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Thigpen said he felt he was the spark he prides himself in being for the team tonight.
“It took a while,” the running back said in the locker room. “First half I felt like I wasn’t getting enough reps or carries. Second half I felt like we gave me the ball a little bit more and I’ll take advantage of any opportunity.”
Along with his 37 yards receiving, Thigpen also put up 55 yards rushing.
“Marcus, he’s always a spark plug, he’s always doing his thing,” Roosevelt said. “When he gets the ball in his hand we know something big is going to happen.”
The win over Bombers is the Roughriders’ third straight and they hope to make it four-in-a-row when they head to Winnipeg for the rematch next Saturday.
In the meantime, the Riders are sitting at 6 and 4, tied with the Edmonton Eskimos who play Calgary Monday. A loss by the Esks would put the Riders in second place in the west behind the Stampeders.
- The Roughrider defence sacked Matt Nichols three times in the game. Willie Jefferson, Makana Henry and Charleston Hughes all got their hands on the quarterback. It’s Hughes’ 13th of the season.
- Linebacker Sam Hurl, who was also playing in his 100th CFL game, led the team in defensive tackles with six.
- Naaman Roosevelt led the team in receiving yards, with Jordan Williams-Lambert not far behind.
- Ed Gainey registered his first interception of the season.