Confident and exciting are two words not often used when describing a three-win team.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders, now riding a two-game winning streak after a 20-18 victory on Saturday over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, are an upbeat bunch at 3-10 and feel their playoff chances are still very much alive.
“The excitement level is fantastic,” receiver Rob Bagg told reporters after the game. “When you get that feeling, you’re hungry to go out and get it again.”
Tyler Crapigna kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired to life the Riders to their second consecutive walk-off win on home turf. The previous week they upset the Edmonton Eskimos in overtime thanks to Darian Durant’s touchdown run.
But the Riders didn’t have Durant down the stretch on Saturday. He left the game with an injury at the end of the third quarter when he was wrestled to the turf by defensive lineman and former teammate John Chick. Durant did not return to the field.
“I hit my head on the ground and felt a little woozy,” Durant said. “I felt fine, I felt like I was ready to go back in but the doctors came up to me and wanted to go through the concussion protocol.”
Durant said he had a slight headache after the game and would use the upcoming bye week to rest.
Backup quarterback Mitchell Gale marched the Riders late on a 12-play drive, one that saw him complete five passes and rush for 12 yards to set up Crapigna with the game-winning kick.
The Riders now trail fourth-place Edmonton by six points in the West Division. The loss leaves Hamilton (6-7) in second place in the East Division, one point behind first-place Ottawa.
Jeremiah Masoli gave the Tiger-Cats a brief 18-17 advantage late in the fourth quarter when he rushed 21 yards for a touchdown. On second down and inches, Masoli took the snap around the right end of the line and found a clear path to the end zone for the score with a little more than three minutes remaining.
But the Tiger-Cats couldn’t slow Gale and the Riders on the ensuing drive.
“They made more plays than we did,” said Andy Fantuz, who led Hamilton with nine catches and 113 yards. “You have to give them credit. I don’t think they’re mathematically eliminated (from the playoffs) and they’re playing like a team that’s fighting for their life right now.”
Durant said his performance on Saturday prior to his injury may have been his best showing in a Riders uniform since he led the team to a Grey Cup title in 2013.
Durant was sharp from the game’s opening drive on Saturday. He marched the Saskatchewan offence to scoring drives on two of its first three possessions, including a 46-yard touchdown catch by Armanti Edwards, who has two touchdowns in his first two games with the club. That score gave the Riders a 10-7 lead after the first quarter.
Durant connected on 19-of-25 pass attempts for 276 yards in the first half. He also had a one-yard plunge for a touchdown to push the Riders ahead 17-10 at the half. He finished 23 for 31 for 326 yards.
“It’s something about these cool Saskatchewan nights and the ball was just spinning and I was seeing the field and was able to hit my receivers in stride. I felt good,” Durant said.
Durant spread the ball around, with Caleb Holley his favourite target on the night with eight catches and 110 yards. Bagg had eight receptions and 96 yards and Edwards picked up 88 yards on seven catches.
“I honestly don’t feel like we’re a 3-10 football team,” Bagg said. “It’s a fun place to be right now, a fun place to come to work every day and we’re just going to continue to work at it and keep this going.”
Hamilton’s Zach Collaros threw for 310 yards and one touchdown, a 16-yard strike to Brandon Banks in the first quarter.
The game was missing plenty of offensive stars. Naaman Roosevelt, Saskatchewan’s leading receiver, missed his second straight game with a leg injury. The Tiger-Cats were without receivers Chad Owens and Luke Tasker. All three pass catchers are on pace to surpass 1,000 yards.
The Riders have a bye week next week, while Hamilton returns home to take on the Calgary Stampeders.