Just as he'd predicted, Hamilton Tiger-Cats slotback Andy Fantuz received a warm welcome from the Saskatchewan Roughriders fans on Saturday.
That reception cooled considerably though as Fantuz and quarterback Henry Burris — also a former Roughrider — led the Ticats to a 35-34 come-from-behind victory over Saskatchewan.
Burris threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help Hamilton avenge a 43-16 loss to the Roughriders in Hamilton in late June.
"You know what they say. It's never over until it gets to zeros on the scoreboard time clock," said Tiger-Cats head coach George Cortez. "That's what you keep telling the players and you hope that eventually they believe it."
The sellout crowd of 32,898 at Mosaic Stadium fans treated Fantuz as just another player on the opposing team as soon as play began.
The Riders fans also kept up the tradition of greeting Burris with the mocking chant of "Hen-ry, Hen-ry, Hen-ry." Like Fantuz, the Tiger-Cats quarterback is a former Roughrider, having played with the Calgary Stampeders before being dealt to Hamilton in the off-season.
Before signing with the Tiger-Cats as a free agent last winter, Fantuz spent six seasons with the Riders and was an integral part of Saskatchewan's Grey Cup championship in 2007, a game in which he was named Outstanding Canadian.
On Saturday afternoon, Fantuz was restricted to two receptions for 39 yards — both coming in the first half — in a game that was dominated by the defences and the kickers until the offences finally shifted into gear in the second half.
"They did some things on defence that took Andy away from us, but we have other weapons on this offence we can go to and use effectively," said Burris, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 355 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
"This is a team that's trying to learn how to win on the road. What better place to do it than the toughest environment in the CFL here in Saskatchewan."
The victory, Hamilton's third in a row, improved the Tiger-Cats record to 3-2. The Roughriders have dropped to 3-2 with back-to-back losses. This marked the second time in as many week that Saskatchewan has blown a sizable lead in the fourth quarter.
"You get paid to tackle," said Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin, whose reeling team lost to Calgary 41-38 in overtime on July 20.
Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant tossed touchdown passes of 74 yards to wide receiver Taj Smith and 20 yards to Jock Sanders in the third quarter. The timely TDs were a response to the Tiger-Cats, who had tied the game 14-14 on a Burris touchdown strike of 21 yards to Chris Williams.
Durant finished the game with 24 completions in 39 attempts for 380 yards and two touchdowns. He was picked off once, by Bo Smith.
Burris answered Durant in the fourth quarter with touchdown strikes of 10 yards to Onrea Jones and 16 yards to Dave Stala, before hitting Jones again with the go-ahead touchdown on third-and-five with just under three minutes remaining.
"We were down in terms of the score," Burris said. "But the offensive group and I knew we had a long way to go in the game yet."
The Roughriders opened the scoring on the game's first possession, with rookie tailback Kory Sheets finding the end zone on a third-down gamble from a yard out. The Tiger-Cats responded immediately with a 32-yard field goal by Luca Congi, another former Roughrider.
Following a 52-yard single by Hamilton punter Josh Bartel in the second quarter, Saskatchewan's Chris Milo and Congi exchanged field goals of 46 and 27 yards, respectively.
Late in the opening half, Milo added a second field for Saskatchewan, this one a chip shot of 13 yards, to give the Roughriders a 13-7 halftime lead.
Both teams now go into a bye week. The Tiger-Cats return to action on Aug. 9 in Hamilton against the Stamps while the next game for the Roughriders is Aug. 10 in Edmonton against the Eskimos.
"It's about focus. We have to see what we can do to get leads and hold leads. We're letting opportunities slip," said Chamblin. "It's still a 3-2 team. The sky is not falling down. When we come back [after the bye week] it's a new season."
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