REGINA — An already emotional Saskatchewan Roughriders fan base was given even more reason to shed a few tears on Saturday night.
The day was designed to be a special farewell to the home of their beloved CFL team since 1936, yet the Lions trounced the party with a convincing 24-6 victory.
“Our defence and special teams put us in position to get some scores early in the game and that was huge,” explained Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings. “There was a lot of emotion going on in this stadium tonight and it was good for us to relax the crowd a little bit with an early score.”
It was a relentless pass rush from the Lions that caused havoc all night for the Riders and ignited a lot of groans and even some boos from the soldout crowd. The defensive unit registered seven sacks and a key turnover early in the first quarter that set up the game’s first touchdown.
The Riders fumbled the ball on their second offensive series and Anthony Gaitor jumped on the loose ball on the Saskatchewan 16-yard line. Two plays later, Jeremiah Johnson scored on a four-yard run. Johnson rushed for 101 yards on the night.
Later in the first half, Jennings connected with Manny Arceneaux on a 36-yard touchdown — the third time in the past two games that combo has hooked up — and the Lions expanded their lead to 15-3.
They led 16-6 at halftime.
“We knew it was going to a dogfight in here,” said B.C. linebacker Adam Bighill, who had two sacks and four tackles on the night. “We knew the fans were going to be hyped, we knew it was going to be loud. Ultimately, we knew what we needed to do and I think we came with one of our best defensive games of the season tonight.”
Solomon Elimimian also had two sacks and finished with 10 tackles for the Lions as their defence prevented Darian Durant and the Saskatchewan offence from gaining any momentum and giving the fans anything to get excited about.
A pair of Tyler Crapigna field goals (42 and 23 yards) in the second quarter was the only scoring from the home side.
After an exaggerated halftime break that featured a Saskatchewan-themed concert at midfield, B.C., poured it on with its first possession in the third quarter.
Jennings connected with Terrell Sinkfield on a 16-yard touchdown strike to swell the lead to 22-6. Jennings finished the night with 241 passing yards, and Arceneaux led a balanced receiving corps with 68 yards.
“This is probably the loudest stadium in the CFL, without a doubt, and any time you can take the crowd out of the game it’s a huge advantage,” Bighill noted. “It’s the worst place in the league to play when this place is loud and the fans are into it. We didn’t give them much of an opening tonight.”
Durant completed 15-of-28 pass attempts for 163 yards. His favourite target was Caleb Holley, who had seven receptions for 80 yards.
The win, however, does open the door for the Lions when it comes to hosting a playoff game. The Lions (11-6) moved into sole possession of second place in the West Division and two points ahead of the third-place Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who lost earlier in the day to the Ottawa Redblacks. The Lions are four points up on the Edmonton Eskimos.
The final week of the regular season carries significant playoff implications for the Lions, Blue Bombers and Eskimos. Home-field advantage in the divisional semifinal and the crossover team is to be determined next weekend.
The Lions will host the Riders, while Winnipeg will travel to Ottawa. Edmonton will be at home to take on the Toronto Argonauts.
Mosaic Stadium played host to 611 WIFU-CFL regular-season games. The Riders boast a 329-268-13 record at the stadium, but dropped their final two home games of the 2016 season.
With Saturday’s game a sellout, more than 11.6 million fans have watched games at Mosaic Stadium since 1958 when the CFL started tracking attendance.