Saskatchewan Roughriders clinch playoff game with massive defensive display

REGINA – The Saskatchewan Roughriders are riding a modest winning streak of two as their defense put on a display to silence the Lions’ growl earning a 35-16 victory. How big of a display? Oh, just tying a CFL record of 11 defensive touchdowns. Riders’ Willie Jefferson could not be contained, serving as the catalyst for two turnovers.

Cold weather in Regina could only mean just a few things; parkas and playoffs. We’re right around the bend from an inevitable snowfall and the 106th Grey Cup, so gear up, it was another playoff-style showdown in the wild West.

The first frame opened up with impressive defensive displays put on by both sides that had Riders QB Zach Collaros and Lions QB Travis Lulay without much room to maneuver nor a window to put the ball through. Pretty much the start you’d expect from two playoff-bound squads.

Watch: Riders score defensive touchdown.

The Riders struck first by hitting two-straight field goals from more than 45 to take a 6-0 early first quarter lead. The boots and scores were separated by a beauty 20-yard catch and run by Riders receiver Shaq Evans, his 50th catch of the campaign and the longest play of the first quarter. Talk about tight defenses, eh? More on that later.

As the quarter unfolded and the clock ticked down inside five minutes, you just kept thinking about that big play. That big play came right on que when Riders Defensive Lineman Willie Jefferson went full on vertical to bat a Lulay pass attempt sky high for his fellow lineman Toby Antigha to come with, Jefferson’s fourth knock down on the year.

Following the turnover, a hard hit laid on Zach Collaros had head coach Chris Jones showing off his arm as he tossed the challenge flag in search for a roughing the passer call. The challenge went in Saskatchewan’s favor, setting up the Riders in the Red Zone. On the ensuing play, Rider back Tre Mason took off around the edge with serious speed, reaching and just nicking the pylon for an added six then seven onto their lead, 13-0 Saskatchewan with zeroes on the clock.

The second quarter started off showing the serious defensive play on both sides of the ball and a new face to the game, QB Brandon Bridge. Bridge stepped onto the field in relief for Collaros who was taken to the locker room after taking the aforementioned blow and did not return to the ballgame. Meanwhile, Bridge entered the game with an even 2-2 record as a starter.

Watch: BC Lions score on fumble recovery.

The Lions had an opportunity to get their first score of the tilt, but a missed field goal booted by Ty Long limited their effort to just a single, 13-1 Riders lead.

Then the Lions started to growl with a huge takeaway put on by Lions’ stud T.J. Lee’s right hand when it came swinging in to jitter the ball loose. Despite the takeaway, the Riders had the last laugh, standing tall and letting nothing up.

With a minute left in first half, Saskatchewan extended their lead with another boot through the upright, making it 16-1, but shortly after, their lead was shaved to 14 points when BC added another single, 16-2 after two.

The second half kicked off like it usually does with a routine kick, except the return was all but routine. The Lions pounced and forced their second fumble and recovery of the game, setting the Lions up in Riders territory.

Did the Lions capitalize? They sure did and it did not take long at all, literally. It took Travis Lulay just one play to strike through 44-yards of air into Bryan Burnham’s mitts to cut right into the Riders lead and get BC right back into the action. The connection was Lulay’s 127th TD pass of his career and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 16-9 Roughriders lead.

Once again Saskatchewan found themselves to add some room onto their lead, but a missed field goal that went right off the upright for a dead ball had that humming BC offense back on the field. Unfortunately for BC, they couldn’t do much to penetrate the ruthless Saskatchewan D. BC decided to concede two points off a punt, 18-9 Riders lead.

The Riders ended up pinning the ball inside BC’s ten and then the following happened: As Lulay was stepping into a deep ball that had everyone, including the cameraman fooled, he was stripped by Willie Jefferson who got inside enemy lines. The force fumble had the ball bouncing on the one yard line when it was scooped up by the Riders’ Zack Evans who took it in for six. The point-after extended the Riders lead to 25-9, which stayed the same right up until the end of the third.

The final and only fourth quarter had BC pinned back deep in their own end. Lulay stepped up for a serious deep feed that connected, only right to Rider’s Ed Gainey who took it right back to the barn for six. Gainey, dawning number eleven, got the Riders 11th defensive touchdown of the season and tying a CFL record. Riders extend their lead 32-9 and that was all she wrote for Travis Lulay, in came Jonathan Jennings.

Jennings added a spark to the struggling BC Lions offense. Jennings found Lions receiver Anthony Parker for 34-yards, which set up just a few punches which was finally capped off by Lions QB Cody Fajardo who snuck in from one. 8 plays for 67 yards that was engineered by Jennings found the Riders up 32-16.

The Riders continued to pounce and the glimmer of light for BC’s night was turned off as the Riders held on to extend their winning streak to two. BC hosts a dangerous Calgary Stampeders squad in the final week of the regular season, while the Riders will have a breather with a week off.

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