The Saskatchewan Roughriders squeezed out an 18-13 victory over Hamilton on Thursday night to kick off Week 4 of the CFL season.
The two sides traded blows throughout the evening in a low-scoring affair, but the Riders took the lead for good with 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 34-yard touchdown run by Marcus Thigpen.
The last-moment win overshadowed another big night for Jeremiah Masoli, who tied the CFL’s record with his ninth straight 300-yard passing game.
Hamilton’s offence looked sharp at the start. Early in the first quarter, Nikita Whitlock, Mercer Timmis and John White helped establish a strong running game capped off by a 29-yard pass from Jeremiah Masoli to Brandon Banks. The Ticats drove the ball to the Roughriders’ four-yard line, but Saskatchewan’s goal line defense was able to hold Hamilton to a field goal.
Brandon Bridge could not find any momentum initially with the Roughriders’ offence, but Masoli made an impact early on with both his arm and his legs. Late in the first quarter, Masoli’s 14-yard sneak up the middle and 30-yard completion to Banks put the Ticats in prime scoring position, but Lirim Hajrullahu missed a 32-yard field goal to keep the score within Saskatchewan’s reach at 4-0 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Riders head coach Chris Jones decided to insert David Watford at quarterback, and the 25-year-old had a quick impact with his feet. Nonetheless, a 29-yard rush by Watford on could not spark the offence. It was Saskatchewan’s special teams that took back some momentum by pinning Hamilton deep in their own territory on a well-executed punt.
The Ticats gained back some ground but eventually punted the ball back to Christion Jones, who gave Saskatchewan their best field position of the game with a 27-yard return late in the second quarter.
The ensuing Roughriders drive was aided by a costly roughing the passer penalty to Hamilton’s Ted Laurent, and Saskatchewan once again threatened to score. They drove the ball all the way to the Ticats’ one-yard line, but Bridge fumbled the football just before landing in the end zone to hand Hamilton a massive turnover.
Led by Masoli, the Ticats were working their way efficiently past midfield until Riders’ defensive lineman Charleston Hughes throttled his way through the defense for a sack and fumble. Hughes scooped up the loose ball and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown that sparked Mosaic Stadium into a frenzy and put Saskatchewan ahead 6-4.
Eager to make up for his mistake, Masoli led a two-minute drive at the end of the first half that resulted in a Ticats field goal to put Hamilton in front 7-6 at the break. Hamilton dominated the first half in net yards, out-gaining Saskatchewan 243 yards to 89.
The Ticats shut out their previous three opponents in third quarters this season, but Saskatchewan was able to buck the trend when Brett Lauther nailed a 52-yard kick to put the Riders ahead 9-7 midway through third.
Masoli responded with a 64-yard drive capped off by a 19-yard Hajrullahu field goal to put the Ticats back ahead. As the second half went on, the Riders’ defence tightened up and made it difficult for Masoli to move the ball at will.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Riders defensive end Tobi Antigha dropped into coverage and picked off Masoli to give Saskatchewan prime field position at Hamilton’s 21 yard line.
The Ticats were able to hold the Riders to a field goal as Saskatchewan took a 12-10 lead.
Unfazed, Masoli needed less than three minutes to bring the Ticats back in front by leading a drive from Hamilton’s 35 yard line that finished with a 39-yard field goal by Hajrullahu for a 13-12 lead. In the fourth quarter, Masoli tied a CFL record with his ninth consecutive game of 300 or more passing yards.
Following the three minute warning, Bridge drove the Roughriders into Hamilton territory, where Marcus Thigpen broke off a 33-yard run into the endzone for Saskatchewan’s first touchdown of the game and an 18-13 lead.
With that late score, Thigpen lifted the Riders to victory and improved their record to 2-2, while the Ticats fell to 2-2. Both teams will enjoy a Week 5 bye before a rematch at Tim Hortons Field on July 19.