Mathews makes big leap in big Ticat win over Riders

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Last winter, Ticat quarterback Jeff Mathews helped his former college teammate and good friend Luke Tasker renovate his house. On Friday, Tasker helped Mathews build something more important: his confidence.

Mathews, making his second start in place of the injured Zach Collaros, threw for 385 yards on 22 for 33 passing and three scores as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats downed the Saskatchewan Roughriders 30-15 at Tim Hortons Field. Tasker caught five balls, including Mathews’ first career CFL touchdown pass,

Mathews also followed through on his vow to take care of the football. After registering four picks and two fumbles the last two weeks, he did not commit a single turnover against Saskatchewan. A balanced attack – the Ticats used running back Michael Ford effectively in the early going – and relatively decent protection (the Riders had four sacks) also helped.

The Hamilton special teams continued their run of stellar play, doing their best to make things easy for their rookie pivot. A blocked punt by Ed Gainey gave a Hamilton a short field and set up Mathews’ first career touchdown pass early in the second quarter – to Tasker, of course.

Special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold now has now orchestrated a league-leading five blocked kicks on the season. Justin Medlock was three-for-three on field goals – two into a light breeze – and perfect on three extra points.

Terrell Sinkfield also had a monster game, registering a whopping 163 yards on just four catches. But one of those was a 87-yard catch-and-run for a third quarter touchdown that all but put the game out of reach after the Riders had cut into a 20-0 halftime deficit with an early major.

Two interceptions – one by Brandon Stewart in the first half, another by Courtney Stephen in the second – also gave Mathews a short field to work with. The defence gave up two long touchdowns but mostly stifled the Riders’ attack and forced a largely ineffective Kevin Glenn from the game at half time.

Glenn’s performance – 11 for 17 for 67 yards and an interception – was emblematic of Saskatchewan team that looked listless from the get-go. The loss drops them to 2-13 on the season and eliminates them from playoff contention (it should also put an end to what was left of the Glenn-to-Hamilton trade speculation.)

With the win, the Ticats improve to 9-5 and take over sole possession of first place in the East Division, pending the outcome of Toronto’s Thanksgiving match up against the Alouettes. Hamilton travels to Montreal next week looking for their first win of the season against a team that’s had their number this season.

It will also be a stiffer test for Mathews, who found his feet on Friday against the league’s worst passing defence. Still, after a series of hard lessons, the rookie quarterback has learned the most important one: he can lead this team to victory.