Saskatchewan Roughriders roll to East Semi-Final win over Ottawa REDBLACKS

OTTAWA — Marcus Thigpen scored on a 75-yard touchdown run while quarterback Kevin Glenn was nearly perfect, leading the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a 31-20 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the Eastern Semi-Final.

The Riders scored three first-half touchdowns and racked up nearly 500 yards of offense, quieting a sellout crowd of 24,107 on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Ottawa’s TD Place.

Thigpen, a surprise starter at running back this week with Trent Richardson and Cameron Marshall out, rushed for 169 yards for the Green and White, while Bakari Grant and Vernon Adams Jr. also scored touchdowns for the Riders.

Glenn added six on a QB keeper, building on an 18-for-28, 252-yard performance with one passing touchdown and no interceptions.

Trevor Harris’ first career playoff start ended with a loss, the veteran throwing for 457 passing yards but also turning the ball over twice. Harris set a CFL playoff record with 60 passing attempts, finishing 37-of-60 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Despite the loss, Diontae Spencer was electrifying for the REDBLACKS, hauling in nine passes for 157 yards and a touchdown — although the Ottawa receiver also had a couple slip from his grasp.

With the win, the Riders’ first of the post-season under second-year head coach Chris Jones, puts the Riders into the Eastern Final, where they’ll take on the Toronto Argonauts on Nov. 19 at BMO Field.

An early scoring surge kept the fans at the edge of their seats from the start in the nation’s capital, with the first three possessions all going for touchdowns.

It started with a second-down play by the Riders deep in Ottawa territory, on which Bakari Grant was left open on a crossing route with nothing but green turf in front of him. Grant dodged a tackle and ran into the end zone, capping off a six-play, 79-yard scoring drive that needed only 2:29, putting the Riders ahead 7-0 out of the gate.

The REDBLACKS wasted no time responding. One play after William Powell was stuffed on Ottawa’s opening offensive play, Harris took to the air on second-and-long and found Diontae Spencer with a step on the defender, turning his first completion into a 56-yard touchdown.

Harris connected with Criner on the two-point conversion, giving the REDBLACKS an 8-7 lead. The early exchange of touchdowns, which occurred in a matter of 4:07, marked the two fastest touchdowns in CFL playoff history.

And the two offenaes weren’t done.

Glenn stayed in his early groove, starting the Riders’ second possession with a first-down to Roosevelt before moving the sticks again on a second-and-10 with a swing pass to Kienan LaFrance. On second-and-short, Glenn went back to Carter on the slant, with the Riders’ top receiver using his body to block off the defender and make a play on the ball.

After LaFrance’s catch brought the Riders to the one, they finished things with a one-yard plunge by Glenn, putting Saskatchewan back out in front 14-8 — another one for the record books, with the first three possessions all going for touchdowns for the first time in playoff history.

On the ensuing drive, Harris again found Spencer in single coverage, with the diminutive receiver making an acrobatic grab along the sidelines to the Saskatchewan 26. But after Spencer helped set up another first down close to the 10, the Riders’ opportunistic defense struck for the first time in the post-season. Jumping the route was WILL linebacker Samuel Eguavoen, intercepting Harris’ pass and ending the scoring threat immediately.

That quieted things down as the Riders were forced to punt while the clock expired on the opening 15 minutes.

The Riders got things moving again with six minutes left in the half when Glenn connected on a 47-yard gain to Bakari Grant, who was finally pushed out of bounds at the eight. Vernon Adams Jr. needed two tries to eventually find the end zone, just getting across the line on his second effort to make it 21-8.

A short-yardage mishap caused the second turnover of the game, a fumble by Ryan Lindley that the Riders recovered near their own 30, but that was it for an otherwise-eventful first half as the teams headed for the tunnel.

After a clean first 30 minutes, the Riders’ first turnover of the afternoon provided a major potential spark for the home team. Christion Jones had the ball punched loose by Keelan Johnson, giving Ottawa possession inside the 20. But the Riders’ defense closed the door on any major momentum swing, forcing a two-and-out and the first field goal of the game from Brett Maher.

The missed opportunity would prove costly for the REDBLACKS, because a couple of plays later, Thigpen found a hole and out-ran the entire Ottawa defense for a 75-yard touchdown, extending the visitors’ lead to 28-11.

Maher’s second field goal of the game, this one from 29 yards out, cut Ottawa’s deficit to 28-14.

At the end of the third, the Riders got it back when a long return by Jones — after a pitch from Chad Owens — set up Tyler Crapigna‘s first three-pointer of the afternoon.

The Riders had rolled up 419 yards of offence through three quarters, taking a three-score lead, 31-14, to the fourth quarter. That would last through most of the remaining game.

The nail in the coffin may have come soon after. With the ball at their own 50 and no momentum in sight, the REDBLACKS looked for a spark in the form of a big gamble on third-and-10. On third down, Harris threw up a 50-50 ball for Juron Criner that was intercepted by Jovon Johnson — the third interception of the game for the Riders’ defense.

The REDBLACKS cut their deficit to two scores when Harris and Criner finally connected in the end zone just inside the two-minute mark, making it a 31-20 ballgame.

Maher’s ensuing onside kick attempt was recovered by Riders defensive back and special-teamer Jeff Hecht.

The result ends Ottawa’s three-game winning streak going into the post-season, extending Saskatchewan’s run to nine wins over the last 13 games.

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