REGINA (CP) - A.C. Leonard was all smiles after his performance under the Friday night lights.
The rookie wideout hauled in two touchdown passes that propelled the B.C. Lions to a 27-24 victory over the host Saskatchewan Roughriders, the second straight win for the Lions over their West Division opponent.
"I knew my day would come eventually,'' said the first-year receiver, who had four catches for 26 yards. "I've been putting in my work, staying ready and it feels good to get my first touchdowns.''
Leonard's second score of the game, a two-yard reception, proved to be the difference as the Riders mounted a late charge to make things interesting.
There were no smiles on the other side of the field, however. The Riders have lost four straight to open the 2015 CFL regular season, with three of those losses coming at home. The Riders remain the league's lone winless club.
The Lions, meanwhile, improved to 2-1.
Friday's game was far from a sellout, a rarity in Saskatchewan, as just 26,159 spectators braved a chilly and rainy night at Mosaic Stadium.
"That's on us. That's our fault,'' explained Riders running back Anthony Allen, who rushed for 80 yards and one touchdown.
"It's rough losing three at home. It's disheartening for us, it's really disheartening for our fans. They don't want to come out to watch us play because we're not playing good football right now. We need to start playing better and maybe they're come back.''
A low-scoring first half saw just 13 points scored - with the Lions leading 9-4. But Shaq Murray-Lawrence sparked some second-half momentum for the visitors when he took the second half kickoff 66 yards deep into Saskatchewan territory. The very next play saw Andrew Harris burst up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown run to give the Lions a 16-4 lead.
"Shaq made a great play,'' Harris said after his 94-yard rushing performance. "He's a good rookie and he's going to be a great player in this league for years to come. It was definitely a big momentum boost for us to start that half.
"Still, we left some plays on the field and we weren't able to take advantage of some opportunities, but we have plenty of time to find our groove. It was just one of those games where we had to grind out this win.''
Leonard's second score put things out of reach in the fourth quarter. The Riders made a late rally with 13 consecutive points late in the fourth quarter, capped by a one-yard run from Allen.
Veteran kicker Paul McCallum hit two field goals in the final stanza and had three in the game, but also missed for the first time in his second tenure with the Roughriders.
"But we need to start faster,'' Allen said. "We're finishing games pretty well, but we're not starting them at all. We need to come out of the gates and start blowing teams out in the first half instead of waiting for the second half to gets things rolling.''
Chris Getzlaf also scored a touchdown for the Riders, a 16-yard reception in the third quarter that brought the home team to within six at 17-11.
Lions quarterback Travis Lulay kept the Riders' defence guessing all night. He finished the night with 105 yards rushing, in addition to 127 yards passing on 12-of-21 attempts.
"It's a huge deal for us on a couple of levels to get this win,'' Harris said. "We got a road win, we win the season series with them and we keep this momentum going for another week. We've set ourselves up really well heading into our next one against Toronto.''
Weston Dressler made six catches for 125 yards for Saskatchewan, who lost a few more players to injuries. Receiver Rob Bagg, centre Dan Clark and defensive back Tristan Jackson were among the walking wounded.
The Riders (0-4) are at home in Week 5 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, while the Lions will host the Argonauts.
POSTGAME COMMENTS FROM COACH COREY CHAMBLIN:
WHAT WAS THE MESSAGE TO THE TEAM?
CC: The message, I guess, to them on this one was similar to what I told them before the game. It's going to be built off of truth. The truth is, ya, we are having some injuries and things are not going our way in terms of adversity. But the truth is also the guys that step into those spots have to do their job and do it better. But that's not the cause of the loss. And the biggest thing I told them, as far as the penalties, the other things I can work with and I can coach, but the penalties, that comes down to the individuals. They have to make smarter decisions when they're on the football field. So it's a collection of things. Like I said, when you look at it, it's real close there. I never like to live on the side of excuses and things like that. Offensively it was pretty bad at halftime because we lost so many guys and it kind of took Jacques out of some packages that we had. Then we had some changes on defense so it just seems like every week whatever we think our best game plan is, that game plan gets altered by the second quarter all the time. We are becoming masters of trying to plug things and make 'em work.
DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS?
CC: The one thing I'll tell you is there's no more tears in my eyes. What I mean by that is the worst has already happened. So it's time for us to stop worrying about what's going to go on on the outside, who's gonna get fired, who's gonna talk bad, stop trying to answer the questions from the outside and answer them from the inside. That's what we have to do. I don't care who's in that room. I've never cared who's in that room. We have to play solid football and winning football. There's a lot of things that are going right for us and there's a lot of things that are going wrong for us. We just have to make sure that we continue to move forward.
CC: I know for certain that Tristan Jackson had a sprain and he'll be out. I don't know the exact time. Haidara is another guy and it looks like he'll be out for an extended time. I'm not sure how long Rob Bagg will be out but it's just some of those things I wish they were just one or two days or maybe one week things. It looks like every time we plug one guy, we lose another guy. Everytime we look at if 'Hey we can get the roster like this next week we'll move forward', we never get that roster. For whatever reason this is where we are. We still have time and what I mean by time is for each week to become a better football team. Where our record ends is where it ends but we have some work to do.
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST ISSUE AFTER FOUR GAMES?
CC: Each game has been different. For the most part I usually have my hand on everything to say 'We gotta do this better'. There are some things defensively we got better at and then we leaked in other areas. Same thing about offense and special teams. We just have to make sure we tighten it up. There are some new guys on this roster and we have to, if it's personnell changes, we have to continue to make them. The only thing is our personnel changes are made because of injury, not because of what we want. We just have to be able to play with what we have and guys that've been in utility roles for their careers have to take the next step.
HOW FRUSTRATING IS THIS?
CC: Like I told you is there are no more tears there. What I mean by that is the hurt, the pain, is gone. I already know exactly where we are. Including preseason, we've had a lot of losses no matter what the staff is. It's not that I'm immune to it. It's not that I enjoy losing. The job that I've been hired to do right now is very challenging. Losing is losing, no matter how you do it. I still want to win and this team will go to work every day and try to win.
DO YOU HAVE TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR?
CC: The one thing I can't do is play. And I can't, and I'm not going to go in-depth with players because I promised myself I'll never throw them under the bus. I can take all the blame, but it's not all my blame. Same thing with the players. It's truly about us. I told them tonight each man has to look in the mirror and see where they can get better. Change just to change to keep changing, that's not going to make us any better. We gotta find some solid footing pretty soon to find a base to go with. Questions abound and they will until we start winning.