It was, to understate it, not a good start for the Ottawa RedBlacks.
Darian Durant threw one touchdown and Will Ford ran for two more, all in the first quarter as the Saskatchewan Roughriders trounced the RedBlacks 38-14 on Saturday night.
Chris Milo also had a 15-yard field goal in an opening quarter that saw the Roughriders build a 24-0 lead, en route to handing Ottawa its first home defeat in its second home game.
“We’ve had some slow starts earlier in the year so to jump out like that and get some early touchdowns on the board was huge,” said Durant. “Our defence has been playing lights out pretty much every game this year. We just have to make sure we do our part to help them out.”
In their inaugural season, the RedBlacks (1-4) were hoping to build on the 18-17 win over the Toronto Argonauts in their home opener two weeks ago. Any hope of that was quickly dashed with Ottawa’s inability to move the ball early or stop Durant and the Roughriders’ offence.
“We’ve been in every game and every game we’ve found a way to shoot ourselves in the foot,” said RedBlacks quarterback Henry Burris, who threw two interceptions in the first quarter that led to 10 points.
“Those two early turnovers really hurt us and put us in a hole but we had ample opportunity to make plays and we didn’t make plays. They made plays and that’s why Saskatchewan is the defending Grey Cup champions and we’re a work in progress.”
Ottawa held the Roughriders (3-2) to just six second-half points on a pair of field goals (34 and 42) from Milo, but managed little offence of their own.
Thomas DeMarco came on in relief of Burris at quarterback midway through the fourth quarter and led the RedBlacks on a 75-yard drive, all passing, that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Jamill Smith.
“That’s why we took him in the expansion draft because he showed he could play last year in BC and we all think he’s a good quarterback,” RedBlacks coach Rick Campbell said of DeMarco.
“Henry is our starting quarterback and I was proud of Henry is he battled all the way until the end. He was trying to make plays until the end. Thomas came in and made some good throws and good football teams need multiple quarterbacks that can play and Thomas showed that he could.”
The Roughriders led 32-7 at the half in what was to that point a very unusual game, Saskatchewan’s 24-point first quarter included.
Early in the second quarter Brett Maher attempted a 31-yard field goal to get the RedBlacks their first points of the game and although the kick had the distance, it didn’t have the accuracy hitting the upright.
On Ottawa’s next possession Maher lined up for another field goal attempt, this time from 50 yards. The kick was short and Tristan Jackson ran it back 112 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing conversion and single off the kickoff gave the Roughriders a 32-0 lead.
“We started fast and we could have finished a little better but we did a good job as a team,” Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin said.
“I thought we would win the game but I didn’t think the score would be 38-14, so we’re excited about the outcome. I just want to see us be more consistent in all three phases.”
On the next series the RedBlacks got their first points of the game in a very unconventional way.
Facing a third-and-three, DeMarco, who came on to punt, delivered a 73-yard punt that rolled its way to the back of the Roughriders’ end zone. Dobson Collins rushed the length of the field and jumped on the loose ball for the CFL’s first onside punt recovery for a touchdown since 1999 when Scott McKenzie did it with the Calgary Stampeders.
Before that, no one had completed an onside punt recovery since Dick Adams of the Ottawa Rough Riders did it in 1973.