REGINA - One offensive touchdown doesn't win a lot of football games.
But the Saskatchewan Roughriders were buoyed by a relentless defensive effort and a spark on special teams in their 40-27 upset victory over the previously unbeaten Calgary Stampeders.
"This is a huge win for us .. we just beat the No. 1 team in the league and it tells everyone else that we're here,'' said Riders linebacker Sam Eguavoen, as his team improved to 4-4.
"We didn't need a lot from the offence tonight. Defence and special teams is two-thirds of the game and they carried us .. made a lot of plays.''
Calgary was aiming to become the fourth team in the past 50 years to start a CFL season with eight consecutive wins. Instead, they see their record slip to 7-1.
Bo Levi Mitchell, despite throwing for four touchdowns, was under pressure for the majority of the game. The Riders blitzed and showed some unorthodox formations on defence that led to uncharacteristic misplays from the Calgary quarterback. He was sacked five times and intercepted once, with one of those sacks resulting in a lost fumble.
"You pressure the quarterback and you'll win in this league. End of story,'' said Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson.
"That guy in the CFL wins and loses games.''
Saskatchewan quarterback Zach Collaros completed 25 of 34 pass attempts for 270 yards, though he was held out of the end zone.
The Riders were playing their first game without receiver Duron Carter, who was a league all-star in 2017. Carter was released earlier in the week. Jordan Williams-Lambert picked up the offensive slack with a team-high 10 catches for 152 yards. Shaq Evans had five receptions for 69 yards.
Mitchell completed 22 of 36 attempts for 275 yards. DaVaris Daniels led the Stampeders with five catches for 83 yards and two TDs. Kamar Jorden had five receptions for 66 yards and a TD, while Romar Morris rushed 13 times for 70 yards.
The Riders' lone offensive touchdown was actually scored by full-time defensive back Nick Marshall on a three-yard run at the goal line. The cornerback also scored a touchdown on a 67-yard interception return, which put the Riders ahead 14-0 after the first quarter.
Eguavoen's blocked punt and return for a touchdown and Brett Lauther's third first-half field goal sent the home team into the locker room with a 24-6 lead.
Calgary's first possession of the second half was more of the same. Mitchell was sacked and fumbled on the play, with the Riders recovering deep in Calgary's end. Three plays later and Marshall was dancing in the end zone after his short touchdown run. The Riders' lead swelled to 31-6.
"He's just a ball player,'' Rider head coach Chris Jones told the media of Marshall, who was a quarterback at Auburn University in the NCAA.
Jones added that Marshall would likely see more short-yardage touches in the future.
But Mitchell and the Calgary offence showed some fight following the Marshall score. They rallied for 15 unanswered points on back-to-back touchdown drives - scores from Jorden and Daniels - and Calgary was back in it, trailing 31-20 after three quarters.
Lauther kicked three more field goals - he had six on the night for Saskatchewan - in the fourth quarter to match Calgary's touchdown with Mitchell finding Daniels again. Though, Calgary just couldn't get any closer.
"We got outplayed, outcoached,'' said Dickenson.
"They seemed to play faster. They had a little bit more edge. They were a little more physical. They executed a little better. When you put all of those things together and when you're playing a good team you're going to get beat.''
Both teams are back in action on Saturday with inter-division matchups. Calgary will return home to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while Saskatchewan is on the road to tangle with the B.C. Lions.
"We're going to enjoy this one for sure, but we can't let it get to our heads,'' Eguavoen said. "We have another big divisional game on a short week so we have to be ready to go and keep this momentum going.''
POSTGAME COMMENTS FROM RIDER COACH CHRIS JONES
- When you're not down 24-0 after the first quarter, it helps. We held onto the ball, got some drives going and burned the clock. And we took advantage of opportunities on defense.
- Anytime you can break their protection, that's what it is. We did a much better job of man coverage today. Defensively we need to keep him in the pocket, and we did that. We disrupted him and that helped us win the game.
- Let's be careful to anoint that we're going to the Grey Cup. Last week they had us finishing last. This is one game on a long journey. The good thing now is we get to play all these West Division teams face-to-face. I said all along we had a good team, but we stubbed our toe more than we should've. In six days, we haven't play real good over in Vancouver. But today we realized that if we do all the little things right, yes, this is the team I envisioned.
- It's for sure that they can't score points when our offense is out there. We need to control the football and wear on people.
- Calgary didn't have any penalties at halftime. With that being said, we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot as much as we have, especially post-snap. That was one of the biggest things of the night.
- Nick Marshall is a ball player. I could put him just about anywhere. QB, RB, receiver, any of our DB spots. He just needs to be on the field. That man is dynamic with the ball in his hands.
- On the punt block we just flooded all the gaps and hit all the gaps. It was a great design by Dickie. He did a great job of finding something that would allow us to get to the block point. It's one of the first times in a long time that we drew it up, and executed it. The ability to block punts is a knack.
- Williams-Lambert has a been a good player for us. He needs to block better. There were times tonight he missed them. But he caught 10 balls and 2 or 3 were real tough ones. When a QB throws it to you, you gotta catch it and that's what he did tonight.
- It's one win. I certainly hope it's a turning point and everybody in that room hopes it is. But Tre Mason said nobody here's surprised. We just have to execute in all three phases and know that it's not going to be perfect. They cut it to 11 points but we made some plays to back up by 10 and that was big for our confidence.
- Our fans tonight were just outstanding. There were plenty of times I couldn't hear myself talking. I wondered if they could hear what I was calling.
- I wore the CFL shirt tonight that they gave us, so I've gotta wear it every week! It's an important message for our league and the Commissioner. The governing body thinks a lot of the Diversity program and it's something I believe a lot in too. It's a good thing.
- We do things for a reason (cutting Duron). We thought that was the way to go with our team, and if that's why we won, so be it. Our players brought the right attitude tonight. If we bring that the rest of the season, we'll win a lot of football games.
(With files from the Canadian Press)