CALGARY — Duron Carter scored on a pick-six while the defense didn’t allow a touchdown, leading the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a 30-7 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night.
Punt returner Christion Jones and short-yardage quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. also scored for the Riders, who improve to .500 and officially clinch a playoff spot with the win. The victory at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium ended the Stamps’ 17-game winning streak on home field, and was the Riders’ first over Calgary in four years.
But on a damp, rainy night with plenty of storylines, nothing could overshadow Carter’s first start on defense. The CFL’s fifth-leading receiver was tested at boundary corner and passed with flying colors, standing up against Calgary’s top receivers while scoring the game-sealing pick-six.
Brandon Bridge and Andrew Buckley both took snaps for the Riders and Stamps respectively, marking the first time since 1984 (Gerry Dattilio and Greg Vavra) that two Canadian quarterbacks played in the same game for Calgary and Montreal. Bridge, who took over for Kevin Glenn in the first quarter, threw for 129 yards on 9-of-18 passing with two interceptions.
With the win, the Riders move into a tie with the Edmonton Eskimos for third in the West, while the Stamps have their 11-game winning streak snapped. Bo Levi Mitchell, meanwhile, falls to 56-9-2 as a starter after going 14-of-27 for 136 yards and two interceptions, eventually making way for Buckley in the fourth.
Much like the first two meetings between these West Division rivals, Friday’s contest featured two hard-hitting defenses that would allow very little.
Charleston Hughes stymied the Riders early with his sixth sack against the Green and White this year alone, marking Calgary’s 12th of the season against Saskatchewan.
After just two possessions and three passing attempts by Glenn, the Riders looked to spark their offense with a quarterback change. And there was an immediate spark from the Canadian pivot, with Bridge’s first pass going to Bakari Grant for a 23-yard pickup to get the Riders over midfield for the first time in the game. But the drive stalled at the 50, forcing punter Josh Bartel onto the field for the third time in the first 15 minutes.
Through first quarter, the two teams combined for only 115 net yards (67 for the Stamps), six first downs and a single point off a Rob Maver punt.
Suddenly, on the first play of the second quarter, the Riders flipped a switch and it was game on. With Maver punting on third-and-seven, Jones waited for an opening before sprinting 60 yards for the score, putting the Riders ahead 7-1 on the game’s first touchdown.
A quick two-and-out got the ball back in the hands of Bridge, who leaned on Chad Owens in his first game as a Rider to move the sticks twice and set up a 26-yard field goal by Tyler Crapigna. Crapigna’s 17th-straight successful attempt made it a nine-point game and a 10-1 Riders lead early in the second quarter.
The Riders had a chance to break the game wide open when Carter, looking to play the man in Messam, had his hands on a pass that would have resulted in a pick-six the other way.
After punting and getting the football back, the Stamps went to work and created some positive momentum late in the half. Not long after a Rene Paredes field goal cut the deficit to 10-4, Bridge’s second-down pass was intercepted by Brandon Smith, putting the ball right back in the Stamps’ possession.
But the Rider defense, as it had all throughout the first half, responded in a big way. Mitchell’s throw on second down was intercepted by a leaping Ed Gainey, whose ninth interception of the season left the Stamps empty-handed and preserved the Riders’ lead heading to halftime.
The Stampeders opened the second half with their sixth two-and-out of the game, already one shy of a season-high. Meanwhile, after a long, efficient drive deep into Calgary territory, Crapigna’s 18th straight successful field goal restored the Riders’ nine-point lead midway through the quarter.
The early field goal was only the start of what would be the game’s biggest turning point, because on the very next offensive play, Kamar Jorden coughed up the football just before his knee hit the ground, setting the Riders up at the Stamps’ three-yard-line on Jovon Johnson‘s return.
While the Stamps’ defense fought tooth and nail, holding Cameron Marshall to a pair of one-yard runs, Adams Jr. came in and finished the drive on third-and-one, putting the Riders ahead 21-4 with the two-point conversion.
Another potential turning point came soon after. With the Riders already up three scores, Gainey appeared to have his second interception of the game on Mitchell, returning it all the way for what might have been the put-away touchdown. But the play was called back on a personal foul on the quarterback, giving the Stampeders the ball back and new life.
Paredes’ second field goal of the game cut the Stamps’ deficit to 21-7, making it a two-score game and keeping things within reach heading into the fourth quarter.
The game’s defining play came moments later, when Mitchell’s pass fell short while Carter cut off the route, setting up his blocks and running all the way back for the game-clinching touchdown.
While the Riders scored in all three ways — special teams, defense and offense — their defense was the backbone in the victory. In forcing Mitchell out of the game, the Riders allowed only 10 first downs and 168 yards of offence while forcing three turnovers.
They also held the Stampeders to a season-high eight two-and-outs.
The Riders return home to take on the Montreal Alouettes on Oct. 27, while the Stampeders get a long week before facing the Eskimos in a visit to Commonwealth Stadium on Oct. 28.