HAMILTON - Jeff Mathews' shoulders are feeling a little lighter.
The 24-year-old rookie quarterback threw the first three touchdown passes of his CFL career to lead the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 30-15 over the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Tim Hortons Field in CFL action Friday night.
It was his second CFL career start with the Ticats - and his first win - after having to take over for starter Zach Collaros in the second quarter of Week 13's game against Edmonton, a 25-18 loss in which he threw two picks returned for touchdowns, one interception in the end zone and one fumble. Things weren't much better last week in his first start - a 23-20 loss to Calgary in which he threw one interception and had one fumble.
This time Mathews had zero turnovers and completed 22-of-33 pass attempts for 385 yards.
"We finally got our execution level up,'' he said, crediting the play-making ability of his receivers. "We were able, obviously, to... make some great plays. It was a great day.''
Mathews' first TD pass was a nine-yard strike to fellow Cornell alumnus Luke Tasker midway through the second quarter that was set up by an Ed Gainey blocked punt recovered near the goal line. He followed that late in the half with a 91-yard drive ending with a six-yard strike to Tiquan Underwood and in the third with an 87-yard catch-and-run to Terrell Sinkfield - Hamilton's longest play from scrimmage this season.
Head coach Kent Austin had been saying all week his starter just needed to get some game experience.
"When he gets that experience, and has to face different situations and conditions and adversity and things, he'll get a lot better, and he has,'' said Austin. "He was very poised I thought today. We protected him well and the receivers really played well. They made some big catches, some big plays for him. But he was very accurate.''
Hamilton snapped a two-game losing skid to improve to 9-5 and take sole possession of first place in the CFL East. Saskatchewan fell to 2-13 and is eliminated from playoff contention for only the second time since 2002.
"At the beginning of the year, that's the goal (making the playoffs),'' said Roughrider head coach Bob Dyce. "Now realizing (we are out), it's a little disheartening. We now have three games and we are going to keep fighting. Obviously, our focus changes.''
Saskatchewan was down 20-0 at the end of the first half, so rookie pivot Brett Smith was sent in to replace starter Kevin Glenn to start the second. He hit Weston Dressler for a 79-yard catch-and-run TD and Ryan Smith with a 68-yard TD strike. He also threw one interception.
Glenn made 11-of-17 pass attempts for 67 yards and one interception in the first half. Smith completed 11-of-20 pass attempts for 243 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Smith's opening drive ended with an interception by Courtney Stephen at the Saskatchewan 21 and returned to the 18. When Hamilton failed to get the first down on a botched fake 22-yard field-goal attempt, the Roughriders got the ball back on their own eight.
Three plays later, Smith found the wide-open Dressler downfield and the score was 20-7 4:53 into the second half.
Hamilton got that back four minutes later when Sinkfield escaped a tackle after a 10-yard pass from Mathews and ran it the rest of the way for an 87-yard score and the 27-7 lead.
Ticats kicker Justin Medlock's 18-yard field goal with 4:34 left in the game followed by Smith's 68-yard TD catch-and run, with a two-point convert with 1:57 left, finished the scoring.
Medlock hit all three field-goal attempts, from 25, 44 and 18 yards.
Saskatchewan kicker Paul McCallum missed from 27 yards out.
Hamilton running back Michael Ford rushed for 54 yards while Brett Smith led Saskatchewan with 57 rushing yards. Jerome Messam, the league's second-leading rusher, was held to eight yards.
Notes: Attendance at Tim Hortons Field was 24,222.
HEAD COACH BOB DYCE
- A little challenging. Offensively throughout the course of the whole game we really didn't have much flow. Defensively we fought hard for the majority and special teams had that block which led to our first touchdown. But some mental lapses bit us. We talked about that but it bit us in the rear-end.
- I think it was a combination of things. I certainly won't put this on Kevin Glenn. There were a number of drops in the first half. There may have been some miscommunication and mislocated balls and when you do that against a defense like this you won't have success.
- Changing quarterbacks wasn't planned. You can't go a half in the CFL without scoring points so we made the decision to go with Brett in the second half.
- Normally the protocol is to be notified on pass interference if it should be challenged. Afterwards Weston said he was interfered with but we just didn't get it in time.
- Alex Hall likely won't play for the rest of the season. On the others, I haven't had a chance to check yet. Monroe went down and didn't finish.
- Brett Smith is an interesting guy. The first touchdown was a result of a broken coverage and credit to his mobility, he escaped and had time downfield. We'll have to watch film. The coach said there were some things that possibly could've been missed but we'll have to look at the film. The late touchdown to Ryan was a great ball and he put up 15 points which is great but as always there were things that possibly could've been better.
- It's Kent prerogative to run a fake. I'm just happy our guys were on point and stopped it. It's his job to score points. That's the objective of the game. That's his prerogative.
- On the shortkick, it was a great kick. I told Paul that as soon as he walked off the field. We coulda played the ball instead of the man. Jeff could've tapped it over the receiver. It's hard for me to see who could've got through but we could've maybe schemed it better.
- Luckily we're in a bye week so we'll be able to sit down and see how to adjust the roster going forward. Obviously we still want to win games. You can't change 15 guys and expect to have continuity. We'll look at it this week and look at all possibilities and go from there.
LB JEFF KNOX JR.
- It's very disappointing right now. The season is basically over for us, for the postseason. It always hurts for us but coming off the bye week we have to stay focused. We've still go three games left.
- I had a lot of help this year. Coach Pettaway is good, man. He's showed me a lot and I'm still learning. I'm a rookie and have a lot to learn. Coach Dyce and the staff believe in me and put me in position to make plays. I have to make sure I make them.
- Moving to the middle is a big responsibility. You've gotta communicate with the back-end and the front-end plus your own assignments but I embrace it. I love the challenge.
- When the scouts saw my film on line, I got a call and I was asked to come to camp in Florida before the NFL Draft. My agent was opposed to it but I'm my own man and I took the chance to go to Florida. They invited me to camp, I made it through rookie camp and made it through and made the roster. It's been a blessing.
REC WESTON DRESSLER
- We just didn't execute as we needed to in the game. We moved it decently in the first quarter and didn't finish a few drives. A few things off cost us.
- It's just that. When everything goes right there's always one thing that goes wrong. It's one thing different each week. It seems like we can't get it all together at the same time.
- It's nice to see Getz back on the field. He's a good friend of mine obviously and watching him on the sidelines the past seven weeks was frustrating. It was nice to see him back out there.
- Brett does a lot of really good things with his legs and he extends plays. He makes big plays happen downfield and he's getting better and better each time he gets to play. He's making the proper reads and getting the ball out on time. He'll continue to improve. It's not easy to run this offense if you're a rookie quarterback in this league. He works hard on it. I like to call it 'organized chaos' when he's making those plays.
- I have no idea what our staff is going to do with the last three games. I don't take this game for granted. I know how quickly it can end at any time. I'm going to make the most of my opportunities whenever I'm on the field.
* The Riders now head into a bye in Week 17.