Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

It was an offensive onslaught as much as it was a defensive debacle and it made for some pretty exciting football.

It was the 17th time in over 5,600 CFL games where 55 points were scored in the first half. And in the end, it was the Ottawa Redblacks who put up more. The Redblacks led by Dominique Davis took down Cody Fajardo and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their home opener Thursday night 44-41.

The first touchdown pass for Fajardo was to veteran Marcus Thigpen. Making his first career start and on his third CFL team, Fajardo made more than an impression while replacing Zach Collaros who landed on the six-game injured list after taking a controversial shot to the head in Week 1.

He wasn’t originally scheduled to play the whole game by head coach Craig Dickenson, rookie Isaac Harker was supposed to come in somewhere during the first half. But Fajardo impressed early and kept the 23-year-old off the field.

Two drives later Dominique Davis, who made his second career start in Week 1, found Dominique Rhymes in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown and then a two-point convert. The Redblacks led 9-7 after one following a single. Rhymes was the QB’s favourite target on the night, as he caught 11 passes for 168 yards.

And then Brett Lauther hit a casual 57-yard field goal early in the second to take the lead back. But that didn’t last. Christion Jones fumbled a punt return, Brendan Gillanders recovered, and Davis found JC Beaulieu for a 23-yard touchdown one play later. A two-point convert restored the Redblacks seven-point lead.

After their defence forced a two and out, Ottawa extended the lead to 15 after being set up well with a 42-yard punt return by Ryan Lankford. Davis found Seth Cote for 43 yards then hit R.J. Harris the next play for his third touchdown of the half. The Redblacks hit their third straight two-point convert and had all the momentum.

This time around, Saskatchewan did have a response. Fajardo found Kyran Moore on the outside, who bounced off of a defender and took the ball 39 yards, before William Powell ran it in a play later and the Riders were within eight. Powell finished with 45 yards on 11 touches in his return to the nation’s capital.

Still in the second, Lewis Ward added two more field goals to bring his tally to 53 straight in the regular season, and it looked like Ottawa was going to be up 14 heading to the locker room. But Fajardo had other plans. With 20 seconds remaining, the pivot connected on two plays totalling 75 yards culminating in a Shaq Evans major, and the score was 31-24 at half.

The California native tossed for 180 yards in his first 30 minutes as a starter with two touchdowns and just three incompletions. Davis more than matched Fajardo’s spectacular half with three touchdowns and 229 yards.

The Riders starter finished with 360 yards on 27-for-34 passing with two touchdowns and one on the ground. Davis wrapped up his night going 30-for-39 with three touchdowns and 354 yards.

Ward added a pair of field goals, one in response to a Powell fumble recovery the other after a long drive stalled out, and Lauther hit one for the green and white on a 10-play drive to tell the scoring story in the third.

Things got heated in the fourth. Davis was pushed out of bounds on a run and national defensive lineman Makana Henry got called for unnecessary roughness. Henry was on the sidelines with Davis’ momentum going to the Caledon, Ontario native where it appeared on second look he leaned into the quarterback. The referees threw the flags and Ward restored a two touchdown lead with a field goal.

The Riders didn’t go down easily. Fajardo came through on a crucial third and four finding Moore deep, who finished with 117 yards for his second career 100-yard game. Thigpen took care of the rest and a missed convert made it an eight-point game inside five minutes to go.

The Riders defence couldn’t make a key second and long stop to get the ball back as Davis once again found Rhymes down the sideline for a gain of 38. Ward split the uprights, the Roughriders responded with an eight-play touchdown drive, but time ran out as Ottawa recovered the onside kick.

Ottawa moves to 2-0 on the season heading into their first bye week, while Saskatchewan will try and get their first win at home against Toronto in Week 3.

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