HAMILTON - Saskatchewan quarterback Brandon Bridge threw three touchdown passes in just his second career start, and the Roughriders held on to defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27-19 in front of 23,604 at Tim Hortons Field on Friday night.
Bridge, 25, got his first start in 2015 when he was with Montreal (a loss against Saskatchewan). The Mississauga, Ont. native is in his third CFL season and second with Saskatchewan.
He took over for Kevin Glenn last week against Winnipeg when the veteran pivot injured his hand late in the third quarter. Glenn's status against Hamilton was a game-time decision even though he hadn't practised all week and it was Bridge who showed up to the media availability on Thursday.
Bridge is the first Canadian to pass for three TDs in a single game since Greg Vavra in 1984. He completed 21-of-31 pass attempts for 231 yards, three TDs and one fumble.
Devon Bailey, Bakari Grant, and Naaman Roosevelt scored for the Riders, who lost their top receiver Duron Carter early in the game to an ankle injury. Jalen Saunders scored for Hamilton.
Jeremiah Masoli, making his third start of the season for Hamilton after Zach Collaros was pulled, completed 29-of-49 pass attempts for 328 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions _ both to Rider defensive back Ed Gainey.
Saskatchewan kicker Tyler Crapigna hit both his field-goal attempts, from 15 and 42 yards.
Hamilton kicker Sergio Castillo was 4 for 4 on field goals, hitting from 19, 50, 38, and 22 yards.
Saskatchewan improves to 6-5 and temporarily ties B.C. for fourth in the CFL West and a possible playoff crossover spot. The Riders also hold a game in hand.
Hamilton falls to 2-9, last in the East Division. The Ticats had five turnovers, totalling 17 points.
The Riders were up 20-10 at the half and added to their lead midway through the third when they took advantage of a Gainey interception off a tipped ball in their own end and drove the remaining 70 yards in three plays (including a 25-yard penalty against Hamilton's Demond Washington for spitting). Bridge hit Roosevelt for a 23-yard score and the 27-10 lead.
Castillo's 50-yarder pulled Hamilton to 27-13 and a 38-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter made it 27-16.
But just as it looked like the Ticats were making a game of it midway through the fourth, driving deep, Gainey picked off Masoli again, this time in the endzone.
Saskatchewan's offence stalled in the fourth, and Hamilton continued picking away at the lead. Castillo's 22-yard field goal made it 27-19 with 2:52 left in the game.
Hamilton had one last drive with 31 seconds left and had first-and-goal on the one with five seconds left thanks to a pass interference call against Saskatchewan. But the final play was a pass that went incomplete in the endzone and Saskatchewan held on.
Saskatchewan went up 3-0 late in the first quarter with Crapigna's 15-yarder when the Riders couldn't convert a first-and goal on the Ticat five-yard line. They got there off a fumble by Hamilton receiver Mike Jones deep in Ticat territory that Mike Edem recovered on the 15 and returned to the five. But back-up pivot Vernon Adams threw an incomplete pass and was sacked for a loss.
The Rider offence got rolling in the second. Bridge led a 75-yard scoring drive early that ended with a nine-yard TD pass to Bailey and the 10-0 lead. Hamilton receiver Saunders fumbled on the Ticat 31 on their following possession, and Bridge went back to work, finishing a four-play drive with a nine-yard TD pass to former Ticat Grant.
But Hamilton and Saunders responded immediately with a 75-yard scoring drive of their own, pulling to 17-7 when Masoli hit Saunders for a 36-yard catch-and-run TD.
Crapigna's 42-yard field goal late in the quarter was answered with a 19-yarder by Castillo with seconds on the clock to make it 20-10 at the half.
POSTGAME COMMENTS FROM CHRIS JONES
- I couldn't be more proud of this football team. I've never been in a situation where we lost 9 or 10 guys with injury in one game. Labatte played with a sprained ankle and another guy played with a compound fracture of his finger and went back in. At one time we had 12 Canadians out there and not many teams could withstand that.
- Our depth is good and our double barrel method in practice got them ready. Denzel Radford went out and covered one of their 5R receivers in man. That's hard to do. Otha went out on the third play! I'm proud of them and now we gotta get back, get healthy and figure out who's going to play against Calgary.
- When Duron Carter goes out, you lose a lot. He's a big part of our offense. Our execution level on offense, with a two score lead, you have to stay out there. We know what we have to do in those situations. Across the board, we need to coach 'em better. When we're up, we need to burn the clock.
- Dariusz Bladek is solid. He's better than what I saw in the combine. He's done a real nice job and he's fit in real well in our locker room.
QB BRANDON BRIDGE
- I just have to give it up to the O-Line and the playmakers around me. They made it easy around me. They called out the blitzes if I didn't see it. I have to give it to the guys around me.
- It feels amazing. It's my first win as a starter. Hopefully I can build from it. There were a lot of mistakes, especially in the second half, but there's a lot of good to take from this game. It's great on a resume, but I need to get better.
- I put the ball in jeopardy twice, especially when we had the lead. I put too much on myself and got greedy. I gotta stay level-headed, and not get too high or low.
- I played within the system. I can make plays with my feet but I have to trust the guys around me and know I know I don't have to do it all by myself. Sometimes I just have to be a spectator and enjoy the show.
DB ED GAINEY
- With 30 seconds to go, it was definitely stressful. I just wanted to leave with the W. I told the guys to close it, end it here and be great. Thankfully we came off the field with the win.
- Honestly Denzel's been playing defense, going back and forth on both sides, and he knows the plays. I just left it on the SAM, Hecht, to do the communicating with Radford because he's closer. He came in and did his job.
- It's very important to win a close game. Early in the season we let some slip away like this. That can decide a playoff spot. We have to remember how we lost those games, and squeak by and fight to get those wins.
- When I'm fielding punts, I'm just telling myself to catch the ball. Don't fumble! I've been practicing it for awhile and I had no reason to be nervous. I just thank the coaches for having faith in me and putting me back there.
(With files from the Canadian Press)