Late-game pick-six lifts Saskatchewan Roughriders over Edmonton Eskimos

REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders came out on top in a close 19-12 battle against the Edmonton Eskimos on Monday in a game that saw both defensive units dominate all day long. The Riders have now won three straight and have improved their record to 10-5.

Defensive end Willie Jefferson was the hero of the day for Saskatchewan, as he delivered the game-winning score with under two minutes to play after intercepting Mike Reilly and bringing it all the way back for a 49-yard pick-six. Jefferson also added five tackles and a sack.

The Riders’ defence finished the game with three interceptions against Reilly, with Ed Gainey and Nick Marshall also making impressive plays to get their hands on the ball.

Both Reilly and Zach Collaros faced major challenges trying to find enough room to make a play in the face of relentless defensive pressure. Charleston Hughes recorded his league-leading 15th sack of the season for the Riders, and the team finished with five sacks in total.

The Esks’ defence finished with two takeaways of their own, with defensive lineman Alex Bazzie stripping the ball from Collaros and defensive back Mercy Maston recording a fourth quarter interception.

Sean Whyte led the way with four field goals on four attempts for the Esks, while Brett Lauther made four of his six attempts for the Riders.

Collaros finished the game with 25 completions on 38 attempts for 259 yards, while Reilly completed 13 of 27 passes for 222 yards.

The Riders’ offence worked their way down the field on their opening drive after a 24-yard catch from Kenny Shaw and a couple hard runs from Tre Mason gave the team momentum. A 17-yard catch and run from Marcus Thigpen set the offence up with a 1st-and-goal, but Edmonton’s defence stood their ground to force a field goal. Lauther knocked the 23-yard kick through to give the Riders the early lead.

Edmonton quickly tied the game after Reilly hit Duke Williams with an accurate strike for 30 yards to help put the team in position for a field goal. Whyte made the 32-yard kick to tie the game at three apiece. The 32-year-old kicker also added an 18-yard field goal on the next drive to give the team the lead after a defensive penalty on Edmonton helped put the Riders in position.

Saksatchewan’s defence applied constant pressure on Reilly throughout the first half, and the veteran passer was forced to scramble and gain yards with his legs in order to escape. Reilly led his team in rushing on the day as a result, gaining 57 yards on 8 carries.

The Riders’ defence came up with a big play in the second quarter when defensive back Ed Gainey jumped in front of a pass intended for Kenny Stafford and made the interception. Gainey returned the ball 34 yards to midfield to set the Riders up with solid field position. Collaros dropped back and found Kyran Moore for a 21-yard pickup a couple plays later , but the Esks’ defence stood strong once again and prevented the Riders from converting the turnover into points.

Charleston Hughes helped get the ball back for the Riders near the end of the opening half when he recorded his league-leading 16th sack of the season, but once again there was no room for Collaros to make a play against the stout Edmonton defence.

The Esks’ defence would add a turnover of their own when defensive lineman Alex Bazzie got through the Riders’ line to sack Collaros and force the fumble. Linebacker Adam Konar recovered the ball, and Edmonton capitalized with a 42-yard field goal from Whyte that gave the team a 9-6 lead before the half.

Saskatchewan managed to tie the game on their opening drive of the second half when Lauther made a 43-yard field goal, but the Esks answered right back after two quick first down plays from Williams set up a 45-yard field goal from Whyte, putting Edmonton up 12-9.

Both defences refused to give up any significant ground in the second half. The Riders added their second interception of the game when heavy pressure on Reilly forced an errant pass to sail into the hands of defensive back Nick Marshall.

Marshall returned the pick 16 yards to set up Collaros and company, and the quarterback quickly found receiver Shaq Evans for an 18-yard gain through the air as the third quarter came to a close. But the Esks’ defence stood strong and forced the Riders to settle for a 50-yard field goal attempt that fell well short of the mark.

Edmonton appeared to be in position to win the game after defensive back Mercy Maston got picked off Collaros in the fourth quarter, but Edmonton’s ensuing offensive drive ended abruptly as a result of Jefferson’s impressive game-winning play. Reilly barely got the pass off before taking a hit, and the pass went directly into the hands of Jefferson as he took off down the field in full stride.

The play was challenged by Edmonton for roughing the passer, but the touchdown stood, securing the victory for Saskatchewan.

Week 18 will see the Riders will travel to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers next Saturday, while the Esks will host the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Saturday.

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