Saskatchewan Roughriders clinch West crown with win over Edmonton Eskimos

The Saskatchewan Roughriders captured the West Division crown with a 23-13 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday.

Isaac Harker came up huge for the Riders, completing 23 of 28 for 213 yards in the victory.

Both Marcus Thigpen and William Powell played big roles in both the running and passing games. Powell led the team in rushing with 36 yards on 12 carries. He also added 32 yards on six receptions.

Thigpen had four catches for 36 yards while adding 14 yards on three carries — one of which was a 4-yard touchdown in the first half.

The Saskatchewan defence finished with three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. A.C. Leonard led the way with six tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

In his first career CFL start, the 24-year-old Harker showed no fear to open the game, airing it out on the fourth play of the game for Shaq Evans down the left sideline. The pass would have gone for a massive gain, however, it fell incomplete, forcing the Riders to punt.

Saskatchewan got the ball right back after a quick tw0-and-out by the Esks, and Harker started to get into a groove, completing three straight passes for 22 total yards — the longest gain of the trio coming on a 14-yard catch over the middle by Evans. Harker’s first incompletion of the day forced the Riders to kick a field goal. Brett Lauther pounded the 49-yarder through the uprights to give the hosts an early 3-0 advantage.

In a quarter that was void of a lot of big plays, the two teams battled for field position. Edmonton began to inch further up the field with the defence getting the Riders to punt on consecutive possessions. Kilgore scrambled out of the pocket, rolled out to the right, and looked down the sideline for a receiver. He instead found Nick Marshall, who jumped to pick off the pass. He’d return it to the Edmonton 35 to set his offence up with great field position.

A quick pass to Emmanuel Arceneaux picked up 9 yards before a pass to Marcus Thigpen went for another 13. Thigpen finished off the drive — with a little help from his offensive line — by pushing through to the goal line and stretching across the plain for a 4-yard major. That made it 10-0 after on quarter of play.

Edmonton’s defence got a massive stop their next time out. Harker and Thigpen connected on a screen pass that went for 9 yards, leaving the Riders just short of the marker. Bryan Bennett came in to grab the first down on a sneak. He’d get stacked up by Nick Usher on 2nd down. In their own territory, Saskatchewan opted to try the sneak play again, however, Jovan Santos-Knox got into the backfield and took Bennett’s legs out from under him, forcing the turnover on downs.

That set up the Esks at the Saskatchewan 34 to open their drive. But on the first play, Kilgore would be sacked by Leonard for a loss of 10. Sean Whyte came out to attempt a 45-yarder, but he’d miss to the left, allowing Thigpen to return it. He’d return it 77 yards before being tackled by Kilgore in the Edmonton side of the field. It would be all for naught, as a holding call on Louchiez Purifoy brought the ball back inside the 10.

Tyquwan Glass looked to have an interception to give the Esks another chance in the Saskatchewan half. Instead, Nick Usher took a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, helping get the Riders out of the shadow of their end zone.

Saskatchewan was forced to punt shortly after, but Jonathan Walton jumped offside, giving the Riders a new set of downs. On the very next play, Harker avoided a sack and hit Naaman Roosevelt for a gain of 26 yards. A pair of plays by Powell that only went for a total of 6 yards brought on another kick. Unfortunately for the green and white, Lauther missed to the left.

Harker and the Riders’ offence tried to push downfield for another score before halftime but they ran out of time and had to go into the locker rooms with a 10-point lead.

The Eskimos decided to dip into their back of tricks coming out for the second half. Kilgore hit DaVaris Daniels out on the right flat, and the pass-catcher unleashed a strike, hitting Tevaun Smith in stride 40 yards downfield. He’d pick up an extra 5 yards to get the Esks into the red zone. On the next play, Smith got separation from Ed Gainey and Kilgore put the ball on him for the score. The point-after would be blocked by Charbel Dabire, keeping the gap at four points in favour of the Riders.

Jon Ryan managed to pin the Esks deep in their own territory. The Edmonton offence was building more confidence through the running game and short passing, moving the ball all the way up to their own 46. However, Leonard found his way into the backfield and got a strip-sack on Kilgore and recovered the loose ball.

The Riders tried turning that turnover into points, but Lauther missed his second field goal of the game, this time pushing a 50-yarder wide. The Esks started their possession from the 5, but they would concede a safety, as punter Hugh O’Neill took a knee in the end zone.

On the very next play from scrimmage, a botched handoff resulted in Usher recovering a fumble, giving the Eskimos great starting field position once again. A roughing the passer penalty by Dabire moved Edmonton up 15 yards before Cooper rumbled down the right side for a gain of 23. That set the stage for Kilgore, who lofted a ball to the back left corner of the end zone for Kevin Elliott, who was able to haul it in while landing in bounds for the touchdown from 7 yards out. Whyte made good on the convert kick make it 13-12 — the Eskimos’ first lead of the ball game — heading into the final frame.

The Riders were forced to kick once again after Harker’s short pass to William Powell was stopped short of the sticks. However, Lauther missed yet again, this time from 54 yards out.

The day continued to be a tough one for the Riders’ kicker, as he pulled another kick from 32 yards wide left with just under nine minutes remaining in regulation. The kick did manage to knot the score at 13, as the ball went out of bounds for the single. At that point, Lauther was just 1-for-5 on field goal opportunities.

Penalty trouble would continue to hurt Edmonton in the final minutes of the game, as another roughing the passer call would give the Riders another chunk of yards. Harker then delievered a jump ball down the right side for Justin McInnis, and the tall receiver would win the air battle and pick up 29 yards. Kyran Moore picked up another first down on a tough catch and run to the right side. Powell pushed the ball all the way down to the 3 with a 9-yard run. That set up Lauther for a 12-yard field goal. He’d make no mistake this time around, putting the Riders up by three with just over a minute to play.

Troy Williams, who came into the game earlier in the second half, stayed in for the final Esks possession, but on his first throw of the drive, his throw would be tipped, picked off by Cameron Judge, and returned for a pick-6. That sealed the 23-13 victory following the Lauther point after.

With the victory, the Roughriders have clinched the West Division for the first time since 2009. They’ll host either the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or Calgary Stampeders on Nov. 17 in the Western Final. The Eskimos will be heading East to take on the Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern Semi-Final on Nov. 10.

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