Fajardo returns to form as Roughriders beat Lions 23-16
The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced Friday night that it was no small feat to sweep a season streak in the CFL.
After suffering two home losses to the BC Lions in the past four weeks, the Riders capitalized on a rebounding performance from Cody Fajardo for a 23-16 victory at BC Place.
« It’s a good win and we did a lot of good things, » said Fajardo, who hit 19 of 24 passing targets, throwing for 321 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 38 yards.
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“We have a lot of things to improve, but we needed it. This locker room needed it more than you know.
“It’s a good feeling in there – a lot of guys are smiling and we’ve worked really hard. We lost some very good players and we found a way out.
“He looked like the guy we know and love,” said Saskatchewan coach Craig Dickenson, who withdrew his start before halftime last week. « I’m very convinced that he’s the right guy and I feel very good about his performance and very proud of him.
“He had the match ball. We only gave out one tonight. And he got it. »
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With the Riders missing top receivers Duke Williams and Justin McInnis through injuries, sophomore receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker led the Saskatchewan offense with 170 passing yards. That included an 85-yard touchdown shortly before halftime that gave his team the lead they wouldn’t give up.
« Any time that ball is in the air, my mentality is that I always have to bring it back, » Schaffer-Baker said.
The Riders also rushed for 164 yards. Frankie Hickson picked up 128 in an expanded role, with Jamal Morrow sidelined with a broken hand.
« It’s amazing, » Hickson said. “You never want anyone getting hurt, especially someone in your own crew. When one goes down, another must get up. I’m just glad I was able to do that for the team.
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The Lions entered Friday’s game knowing that their starting quarterback, Nathan Rourke, had successfully undergone foot surgery earlier in the day.
On a five-game winning streak, 26-year-old Michael O’Connor made his first career CFL start.
He went 6-for-15 for 94 yards, but left the game in the second quarter with what Campbell described after the game as a leg injury that was being evaluated by team doctors.
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He was replaced by third-string pivot Antonio Pipkin, who went 9-for-17 through the air for 112 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 26 yards.
« Michael made some really good shots early on, » Lions coach Rick Campbell said. « And Pip comes in – it’s a tough, tough situation to deal with.
« He knows what he’s doing and he knows the offense. But he literally has very, very limited reps who train and obviously don’t play. So good for them for the competition. And they kept swinging until the end.
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Having seen the Lions with Rourke so recently, Dickenson was confident in how his opponent would prepare.
« We knew they wouldn’t have to change the game plan but scale it down, » he said. “We felt like if we could pressure the quarterbacks, maybe we could get them to throw a few at us, which they did. We just weren’t able to intercept.
With the loss, the Lions fell to 8-2 in the standings and saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.
BC also lost two players with hamstring injuries – key defenseman TJ Lee, as he tried to chase Shaffer-Baker on his touchdown play, and wide receiver Lucky Whitehead in the third quarter.
The Lions are now heading into a bye week, where their focus will be on getting healthier.
« No one should come back (unable) to practice if they haven’t come in and received treatment, » Campbell said.
“We have to take advantage of this very timely week off. We need to have guys who are as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically, to play a lot of important football.
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The defense ruled early Friday. The Lions held a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, on Sean Whyte’s first of three baskets.
Saskatchewan scored its first points of the game with 8:35 remaining in the first half, when Brett Lauther made a 20-yard field goal after Fajardo hit Schaffer-Baker with a 49-yard dart that led the Riders down. BC 13-yard line.
Pipkin took over on the Lions’ next possession, but the Riders quickly got the ball back. They scored the game’s first major with 3:57 remaining before halftime, when Fajardo connected with Schaffer-Baker for an 89-yard play.
With the Lions trailing for the first time in the game, Pipkin effectively moved the ball down. But an attempted pass to Rhymes in the end zone failed, setting up Whyte’s third field goal.
Taking over with 1:17 remaining before halftime, the Riders quickly moved into field placement position. Lauther hit his second of the game to give the visitors a 13-9 lead as they headed for the locker room.
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Lauther added another basket midway through the third quarter. With 1:01 to go, Fajardo finished a solid passing streak with a 26-yarder to Tevin Jones, pushing the lead to 23-9.
In the fourth, Pipkin set up a solid pass and then, from the seven-yard line, broke out of the pocket to hit Jacob Scarfone in the end zone. That reduced the lead to just one possession with 5:59 left, but the home side couldn’t close.
METERS: According to the CFL, Friday’s game marks the only time a club has pitched two different pure Canadian quarterbacks in back-to-back games… The only other time two Canadians went under center in back-to-back games was in September 1955, when Bill Stevenson of the Calgary Stampeders was replaced by emergency starter Lynn Bottoms, a regular halfback…The first-quarter catch of Bryan Burnham extended his personal reception streak to 102 straight games…Saskatchewan will host the West Division-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers next Sunday at Mosaic Stadium, while British Columbia will have their last week bye.
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