When Air Canada got comfortable the Riders took off

The play came early in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game, the Saskatchewan Roughriders already trailing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14-3. Quarterback Brandon Bridge had been inconsistent and, as Riders’ head coach Chris Jones is wont to do, replaced by back up David Watford on a couple of occasions.

But on first and 10 from the Saskatchewan 35-yard line, Bridge ran play action, calmly stood tall in the pocket and spotted Caleb Holley running across the middle of the field facing one-on-one coverage. The rangy quarterback let go a touch throw for a 37-yard gain. It setup a Riders field goal (which they missed) but more importantly, the completion allowed Bridge to settle in, find his rhythm and ultimately lead his team to victory

The Canadian signal caller came back the next drive on second and nine threw a seed to Shaq Evans in a tight window for 15 yards and a first down, then executed a slick shovel pass to Jordan Williams-Lambert for 17 yards and another field goal attempt (this one was good.) Watford, who had played played one series at the end of the first and another to start the second, stayed on the sidelines for the rest of the game except when running the short yardage QB sneaks.

“I actually stopped thinking about it after the second game, talking to a lot of veterans I went out there and took their advice,” Bridge said. “I went out there and tried to have fun on one play at a time as opposed to thinking that in two series I’m going to get pulled.”

Saskatchewan came out of the halftime break with Marcus Thigpen bursting up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown. Then Bridge led a four-play drive, including one rush by the athletic quarterback and three completions, the capper a well-executed play action, pump fake and spotted throw to Naaman Roosevelt in the end zone for 24 yards and a major. It was the first passing touchdown for Bridge in 2018 and it put the Riders in front for the first time in the game.

“Definitely after the second drive in the second half, we got that shot play out to Naaman. After that, I felt like I was in my groove and I started to feel it,” said Bridge, who completed 17-of-22 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown on the night.

Bridge’s improved play allowed Jones to stop the switching QBs and allow his starter to run the show.

“He was having success on first and 10 with what we were calling so when something is going well – just like last year when K.G. would play well you wouldn’t see Brandon Bridge,” head coach Chris Jones said.

There were other factors, of course, Christion Jones found a lane and sped through it for a 61-yard punt return touchdown, the diminutive playmaker’s first touchdown return in 2018. Jones was a major factor in Saskatchewan starting in many favourable field position situations.

And the Riders defence smothered Ticats targets as Jones brought the heat on Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for much of the game: there were many snaps where the Ticats quarterback was moved off his spot in the pocket due to the pressure and different looks Jones schemed. Willie Jefferson and Charleston Hughes wreaked havoc and paired with blitzers kept Masoli uncomfortable.

In the defensive backfield, Jones stayed with the match ups from the first game between the two teams with Duron Carter locked on Terrence Toliver and Ed Gainey staying with Brandon Banks. It was effective with Banks registering three catches for 25 yards and Toliver three grabs for 23 yards. Coverage looks varied with Tobi Antigha, Cameron Judge, Sam Eguavoen among several players who rolled back as safeties.

It all came together when Bridge steadied and got on course. The Riders final destination when sticking with one quarterback: a convincing road victory.

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