It was a battle of the West Division basement on Saturday night as the 1-3 Saskatchewan Roughriders took on the 1-4 B.C. Lions.
The Lions were coming off a 33-6 drubbing by the Eskimos while Saskatchewan fell 37-10 against the Stamps in Week 4 before their bye last week.
And it was the home side Riders walking away with a 38-25 win.
Mike Reilly came out on the field on the team’s second drive down one after a Jon Ryan single. The pivot has been under siege all season as the offensive line hs done little to protect the face of the franchise, giving up a league-worst 17 sacks.
Increase that total a few more after Charleston Hughes brought Reilly down behind the line of scrimmage. Hughes was a force B.C. simply could not stop. He forced two fumbles, notched three sacks and 10 tackles.
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Sergio Castillo split a 50-yarder through the uprights for a 3-1 lead. The lead evaporated immediately. A scrambling Cody Fajardo found a wide open Kyran Moore for a 36-yard touchdown one play after a 39-yard Shaq Evans connection and the scoreboard read 8-3 Riders.
The big plays were not exclusive to the home team, however. Reilly connected with Shaq Johnson for 56 yards on their first play and followed it up with a 13-yard pass to Duron Carter, who was battling with Nick Marshall early and often. The drive stalled after that and Castillo made good on a 24-yard field goal.
A steady Riders drive ended in a bobbled catch-turned interception as it fell into the hands of rookie Victor Gambora out of Eastern Washington.
Reilly fed Brandon Rutley twice on the extra drive. Rutley was starting over John White and finished with 73 yards on 13 carries, before exiting the game in the fourth with an injury. Head coach DeVone Claybrooks opted to take the points on a third and two as Castillo made good from 29 yards and the Lions took a 9-8 second quarter lead.
Trickery was then on display for the green and white. A fake field goal saw Ryan toss it to Kienan LaFrance near the sidelines, but he was ruled an ineligible receiver so the play was for not. A conceded safety gave the Riders a one point lead with 4:29 left in the second.
Coming out of the three minute warning, Reilly hit Bryan Burnham for a 38-yard reception over Marshall, with 15 more yards tacked on after a Hughes roughing the passer penalty.
Reilly went 30-for-38 with 343 yards, one touchdown and one pick.
A Mike Edem defensive pass interference negated a second down goal line stop, and Reilly plunged in the next play as B.C. snatched the lead back.
But once more it was short-lived. Veteran Marcus Thigpen took the ball 104 yards for the Riders’ first kick return touchdown of the season and put them up 17-16 before the break.
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After a Riders punt single, Reilly marched down to the red zone on the strength of 14 and 15 yard completions to Johnson, mixed in between a trio of good yardage Rutley runs. Castillo came out for a chip shot on third and two on the four-yard line as Claybrooks once more played it safe. The Leos made it 19-18.
The Riders responded with an 11-play touchdown drive, mostly on the ground with the ball in the hands of Fajardo and William Powell, with help of a roughing the passer call to move the sticks. Fajardo took it across the plane standing but limped to the sideline, as the Riders led 25-19 after three.
Fajardo put up 278 yards on 17-for-23 passing with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions and one more major on the ground with 53 more rushing yards.
Momentum kept with the home team after some defensive stops. Fajardo briskly moved the offence down the field, the biggest gain to Evans again for 36 yards this time. The receiver surpassed 100 yards for the third time this year and finished with 158 and a major. Powell ran it in two plays later and the lead stretched to 12.
Stuck two possessions down, Reilly took a big shot downfield to Johnson but was picked off by Loucheiz Purifoy in double coverage with five minutes to play.
Fajardo made the Leos pay for the pick with a 50-yard bomb to Evans for a major, putting the game out of reach.
These two clubs will meet up again next week for part two of the home and home. B.C. desperately needs a win even thought it’s early in the season.