DEFENCE SHINES BRIGHT AS RIDERS DOWN ARGOS AT MOSAIC
All eyes were on the Saskatchewan Roughriders offence and Zach Collaros ahead of Friday night’s contest but it was the team’s defence that stole the show in their 27-19 win over the Toronto Argonauts.
Saskatchewan’s defensive unit held Toronto to just four points in the first half and disrupted Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray throughout the entire night on their way to victory at Mosaic Stadium.
Charleston Hughes made an immediate impact in his Roughriders debut, recording three sacks on Ray in the first half alone, and defensive back Nick Marshall scored a pick-six late in the contest.
Collaros, yet another Rider making his first start in the green and white, spread the ball evenly among his receivers, hitting nine different targets through the air, including running back Jerome Messam, on the way to his first win with his new team. He finished his night throwing for 203 yards and connecting on 18 of his 25 pass attempts.
Naaman Roosevelt scored a touchdown for the Riders in the win and kicker Brett Lauther was good on four of his five field goal attempts.
After a lackluster first half that saw Ray throw for just 71 yards, the Argonauts pivot ended the night with 232 passing yards and an interception. His backup, James Franklin, scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak and threw a touchdown pass to Declan Cross in the second half but it wasn’t enough for a comeback.
Both teams took the first few possessions of the contest to feel each other out as each defence stood tall on either side, trading two-and-outs as things got under way at Mosaic Stadium.
The Boatmen’s defence put early pressure on Collaros, who was making his debut in Rider green, with Cleyon Laing and Shawn Lemon both recording a sack on the former Hamilton Tiger-Cats pivot.
The first point of the contest was scored on a rouge and Toronto took a 1-0 lead just over five minutes in.
Collaros started to put first downs together as he got more comfortable with the Roughriders offence late in the first quarter. A 16-yard catch from Duron Carter and two penalties (15 yards each) to Argos defensive back T.J. Heath moved Saskatchewan down the field and into Toronto territory. Collaros kept rolling with No. 89, tossing an incompletion to his receiver and then an 11-yard grab for a first down, as the pair started to build some early chemistry. That drive set up a 32-yard missed field goal from Lauther to tie the score at 1-1.
As Ray tried to generate some offence for his Argonauts, Hughes recorded his 100th career sack, which was also Hughes’ first as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, forcing Toronto to punt the ball away.
To start the second quarter, Lauther hit his second field goal attempt of the evening, this one from 45-yards out, to give the Riders their first lead of the contest (4-1).
Once again the Riders defence held the Argos to a two-and-out on Toronto’s next possession. Ed Gainey broke up the pass intended for S.J. Green on first and 10 and Willie Jefferson knocked down Ray’s next pass attempt, forcing Pfeffer to punt the ball away.
Collaros tossed his first touchdown pass as Rider to Roosevelt to put the home team up 11-1 as the quarterback continued to gain confidence as the game progressed. A third down gamble (which was a 34-yard completion to Caleb Holley) proved to be the right play call as it extended the drive that started on their own 30-yard line and set up for the major score.
Lauther hit his second-straight field goal to add three more points to the Riders lead. The 43-yard kick put Saskatchewan up 14-1 with under three minutes left in the half.
Hughes continued to make Ray’s night miserable as he added his third sack of the game late in the second quarter.
On that same drive, Pfeffer’s 35-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to cut Saskatchewan’s lead to 14-4 as the half finished and the teams went to their respective locker rooms.
Collaros finished the first half connecting on 12 of his 16 passes for 142 yards and a major score as he started to settle in. His counterpart, Ray, completed just six of his 13 passes for 71 yards after 30 minutes.
Toronto started the second half with the ball, hoping that the break from action would kick start their offence. The Riders defence had other plans, however, forcing Toronto to punt the ball away.
Pfeffer added another single for the Argonauts on his team’s next series, cutting Saskatchewan’s lead to 14-5 in the third quarter.
Collaros continued the momentum on his team’s side late in the third quarter, moving the sticks into field goal range. Lauther was good on his 46-yard attempt, increasing Saskatchewan’s lead to 17-5.
Toronto had the ball to start the fourth quarter and a marched down the field to set up Franklin’s one-yard sneak for his team’s first major score of the contest. With Pfeffer’s point after, the touchdown score cut the Riders lead to 17-12.
Saskatchewan’s defence continued to roll late in the fourth quarter, as Nick Marshall picked off Ray and took it to the house for a touchdown. The 65-yard return put the Riders up 24-12.
Toronto wasn’t ready to give up just yet. On the team’s next drive, Franklin tossed a touchdown pass to Cross with 2:16 left in the game to cut the Riders lead to 24-19.
With a five-point lead, Collaros and his offence stepped back onto the field and moved into field goal range where Lauther made his 32-yard attempt to put the Riders up 27-19 with 13 seconds left on the clock.
Ray and the Argonauts hit the field for one last chance to move down the sticks but were unsuccessful and the Riders started their 2018 season off with a win.
The Riders head to the nation’s capital next week to take on the Ottawa REDBLACKS while the Toronto Argonauts are at home to host the Calgary Stampeders.