One thing the Saskatchewan Roughriders know — the games will get harder from here.
Their first game of the season couldn’t have been much easier.
Quarterback Darian Durant passed for three touchdowns as the Roughriders started off the CFL season in fine form, blasting the hapless Edmonton Eskimos 39-18 on Saturday afternoon.
Saskatchewan is off to a 1-0 start in its quest to appear in the 101st Grey Cup in Regina.
“We did some good things, a lot of good things,” said Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin. “We played well and we won, but we didn’t play well for all four quarters and that’s something we can still work on. We want to win all four quarters each and every game. We got our goal, which is to win on the road. Now we have to make sure we win all four quarters consistently on the road.”
Riders linebacker Renauld Williams also tried to keep the victory in perspective.
“It’s one game,” said Williams, who closed out the first half with an interception return TD, his first since 2008. “We just want to get better play by play and week by week. It’s a great start though. Especially on the road and especially in Edmonton because we have a history here.”
The Roughriders have not had much success at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium over the years. Saskatchewan came into the game with just a 9-40 regular season record, including a six-game losing streak extending back to September 2009.
The Eskimos, meanwhile, lost their first season-opener in three years under head coach Kavis Reed.
“We did not execute very well,” Reed said. “Penalties were our nemesis today. We did not tackle as well as we wanted. We lost the game in all three phases.
“There are a lot of things that we have to look at. There are a lot of things we have to evaluate from top to bottom to make certain we get better.”
Saskatchewan scored five minutes in to the game’s opening drive as Kory Sheets took a handoff from Durant and scampered 19 yards for the touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
The Eskimos took a string of penalties that allowed the Riders to march downfield and make it 14-0, as Durant hit Taj Smith for a 13-yard TD pass with a minute to play in the opening quarter.
Saskatchewan added a punt single before Edmonton came back with a single point of their own on a missed field goal. The botched kick came shortly after the Eskimos finally had good field possession thanks to a 46-yard passing play to Fred Stamps.
The Eskimos’ disastrous opening half concluded with an extremely poor play.
Edmonton found itself deep in its own end with time expired and quarterback Mike Reilly opted to pass instead of going down on a broken play. Williams picked off the pass and ran it 19 yards into the end zone to put the Roughriders up 22-1 at half.
“I think that was just a bad decision by their quarterback,” Williams said. “He’ll learn. He should have thrown the ball away. Even if he had completed it, you are probably not going to score. I was thinking ‘He’s not going to throw this,’ but he threw it. Opportunities like that don’t arise very often and you have to make the play when it is there like that.
“He just has to make a better decision on that one.”
The Eskimos left the field at the half to a chorus of boos from their hometown fans.
The Roughriders continued their assault to start the third quarter as a 36-yard passing play set up a three-yard TD toss from Durant to Chris Getzlaf to make it 29-1.
Edmonton returner John White fumbled the ensuing kickoff at his own 30 and Sam Hurl was there to pounce on it. The latest in a series of Eskimos miscues set up a four-yard TD pass to Scott McHenry just over a minute after their first major of the half.
The Eskimos finally got some earned points on the board when Grant Shaw kicked a 40-yard field goal to make it 36-4. Saskatchewan also conceded a safety to make it 36-6 at the end of the third.
The Riders added a field goal before Edmonton saved a little face with a touchdown midway through the fourth as Stamps made a leaping catch for a 19-yard major to make it 39-12 after the missed two-point convert.
Shaw added a pair of field goals in the final two minutes for the Eskimos.
The Riders return home to face the Calgary Stampeders on Friday. The Eskimos travel to Hamilton to play the Ticats next Sunday.
Notes: Saskatchewan finished third in the CFL’s West Division last season with a record of 8-10, while Edmonton was fourth at 7-11. Both teams lost out in the semifinals as the Riders fell 36-30 to Calgary in the West and Edmonton crossed over and lost 42-26 to the Toronto Argos in the East... The Eskimos are one of the most inexperienced teams in the league with 18 players in their first or second year and an average of 2.5 years experience through their lineup. The Riders have an average of 3.5 years experience, tied for second behind B.C. with an average of four years... Star slotback Geroy Simon was unable to make his debut for Saskatchewan after suffering an injury in the Riders’ last pre-season game against Calgary. Simon, the league’s all-time leading receiver, was acquired from the B.C. Lions in the off-season... Stamps hit the 400 career receptions mark in the game.