Bridge threw a key TD pass and had just one incompletion in an impressive second half as the Saskatchewan Roughriders rallied for a 31-20 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday night. After splitting time the previous two weeks with Watford, Bridge kept his teammate on the bench from the second quarter on.
Once again Saskatchewan's game plan was to use both quarterbacks throughout. But head coach Chris Jones said Bridge's play (17-of-22 passing for 165 yards and a TD) made him change that approach.
"Brandon did a real nice job,'' Jones said. "He threw for a very high completion (percentage) and took care of the football.
"He was having success on first and 10 with what we were calling. When something is going well, just like last year when KG (Kevin Glenn) played well you wouldn't see Brandon Bridge.''
Bridge was especially sharp in the second half, completing 9-of-10 passes for 83 yards and the touchdown.
Saskatchewan (3-2) erased a 10-point deficit by outscoring Hamilton 21-3 in the third quarter. Marcus Thigpen began the comeback with an 80-yard TD run just 33 seconds into the third before Bridge found Naaman Roosevelt on a 24-yard scoring strike at 5:10 to put the Riders ahead 21-17, thanks in part to a bizarre decision by the Ticats (2-3).
Roosevelt's TD came after Hamilton starter Jeremiah Masoli's stunning unsuccessful onside kick - ruled a fumble as it didn't cross the line of scrimmage - was recovered by Saskatchewan's Willie Jefferson. Lirim Hajrullahu's 35-yard field goal at 8:32 pulled the Ticats to within 21-20 before Christion Jones cemented the victory with a 61-yard punt return TD at 13:46.
"Any time you turn the football over, that's one of the biggest things,'' said Jones. "He (Hamilton coach June Jones) had a good designed play.
"They actually started out with their punt team and brought back their offence and kind of got us between personnel groupings. It comes down to the kick in those type things.''
Masoli took ownership of the play.
"I just missed it,'' he said. "We've been doing it pretty good, that's why we're confident about it.''
There were reports of discord on Hamilton's sideline in the second half, something June Jones addressed with his team.
"That's something that losers do,'' he said. "(After Thigpen TD), it's a one-score game still.
"You've got to answer the bell when everything's against you ... that's how you become a championship team.''
Chris Jones said Thigpen's touchdown was a big one for the Riders.
"We were down 10 and that's what we talked about before we went out,'' Jones said. "If we can come out with some kind of points then it will be a tight ball game.''
Brett Lauther's 35-yard field goal at 5:33 of the fourth rounded out the scoring. On Tuesday, Jones stopped practice and read his team the riot act for a sub-par effort.
Bridge, of Mississauga, Ont., earned his third win as a CFL starter. All have come against Hamilton.
Masoli fell short in his bid for a CFL-record 10th straight 300-yard passing performance. He finished 20-of-27 passing for 184 yards with an interception and a lost fumble before a Tim Hortons Field gathering of 23,346 that also included Andy Fantuz. The former Ticats/Riders slotback retired Thursday following a 12-year CFL career and was honoured on the field following the first.
"He (Masoli) is a great quarterback,'' Chris Jones said. "We've got to do some different looks and use some different people in different ways and try to utilize the coverage.
"Again we didn't do a great job of covering them tonight but we did enough to win the football game.''
June Jones said his team was often its own worst enemy.
"We didn't execute very well, obviously,'' he said. "A lot of stupid penalties, a lot of mental errors to be quite honest.
"Good football teams don't win that way and we're not a good football team right at the moment. But we'll get better from it and we'll have to let this one hurt for a while.''
Saskatchewan earned a sweep of the home-and-home series after earning an 18-13 home win over Hamilton on July 5. The Riders have earned five straight wins over the Ticats.
This marked the first time in Hamilton club history it opened a season with five straight games versus West Division teams. The Ticats host the Ottawa Redblacks next Saturday.
Frankie Williams, on a 98-yard punt return, and John White IV scored Hamilton's first-half touchdowns. Hajrullahu booted the converts and two field goals.
Lauther had three field goals, three converts and a single.
POSTGAME COMMENTS FROM RIDER COACH CHRIS JONES:
- We'll see if we took the next step on offense. Give credit where it's due. They got a good football team and led by 10 points at the half. But we stuck to our guns and made the plays in the second half that we didn't in the first half. We kept our nose to the grindstone and believed in what we're doing.
- 213 yards rushing. I don't care if it's Little League football. That's a good job. All 3 backs did a nice job. No turnovers and five penalties. That's what I'm most proud of.
- They're a very good football team. They've done a nice job putting their team together and their coaches throw a lot at ya.
- We've gotta assess the injured guys. Hopefully Labatte isn't down and it looks like Moncrief will be for awhile. We've got some work to do but that's why we play and coach football. It'll be a LB/DB type guy we put on. We'll have to assess who we have and that guy's first test will be against Calgary.