Rey Williams promised Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin a big game.
Sunday he delivered, but he was hardly alone.
Williams had two of the Roughriders’ five sacks, Rob Bagg caught for two touchdowns, and Darian Durant threw four TDs on 347 yards passing as Saskatchewan spoiled Austin’s return to Regina with a 37-0 win over the Ticats.
“Any time you play your old team and you don’t leave on the best of terms you want to go there and you want to embarrass them, and we were able to do that tonight,” said Williams, who was cut by the Tiger-Cats in February after two seasons in Hamilton.
Saskatchewan (4-0) remains the only undefeated team in the CFL while the Ticats (1-3) dropped into a three-way tie for last in the East Division.
The game was Austin’s first in Saskatchewan since coaching the Riders to the 2007 Grey Cup.
Austin left the Roughriders after the championship win and spent five years in the U.S. college ranks before signing on as Hamilton’s head coach and general manager in December.
“We’ve got to look at our lineup,” he said. “Like I told the coaches, it’s going to start with us. We’ve got to figure out what our guys can do well and only ask them to do that because there’s some things we just aren’t good enough to do.”
Williams returned to the Roughriders, with whom he played his first three CFL seasons, after the Ticats released him and, in the lead-up to Sunday’s game, pledged to make Austin look bad.
He delivered by sacking Burris on Hamilton’s first drive of the third and fourth quarters, putting an exclamation point on a sparkling day for the Riders’ defence, which also forced three first-half turnovers.
“They have problems over there and next week when they see us we’re going to try to do the same thing,” said Williams, whose team will travel to Hamilton for a rematch in Week 5 on July 27.
The game was big in other ways for Saskatchewan as well.
Big as in 310-pound offensive lineman Dan Clark, who lined up as a tight end and caught the first touchdown of his career on an eight-yard pass from Durant to end the third quarter.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” said Clark, who was mauled by his teammates after the catch and gave the ball to his father after the game.
“I never thought in 10 years of football that I’d be catching the ball in the end zone in the CFL.”
The Riders also overcame a big mental hurdle, after last year’s team also opened 3-0 only to drop five straight games en route to an 8-10 finish.
Saskatchewan — ranked seventh in yards allowed entering Sunday’s game — held the Ticats to 161 yards of net offence, forced them to punt 11 times and also got sacks from Craig Butler, Jermaine McElveen and Ricky Foley.
“On defence what we talked about is being a championship defence and making sure teams don’t score,” said Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin.
“We went back and we thought we had some poor fourth quarters over the last couple of weeks. The guys did a good job of playing quarter-by-quarter. They did a great job and they had great focus ... and it just turned out being no points.”
With the Roughriders facing a north wind in the first quarter that gusted to over 50 km/h throughout the game, the defence came up with a steady stream of big plays before Durant found his groove.
The returning Eddie Russ forced the ball from the hands of Ticats receiver Greg Ellingson in the first quarter to give Saskatchewan the ball near midfield, and made a shoestring tackle on Samuel Giguere on Hamilton’s next possession to force a third-and-one attempt that came up short.
Chris Milo got Saskatchewan on the board with his first of three field goals to start the second quarter and the Riders got the ball right back when Butler came up with an end zone interception on a Henry Burris pass intended for Ellingson.
Saskatchewan took a 16-0 lead into halftime after a 28-yard touchdown pass from Durant to Bagg and two more field goals from Milo, including a career-best 47-yarder with the wind at his back.
The last gasp of wind in the Ticats’ sails was snuffed out by a pass interference call near the end of the third quarter that negated a 30-plus yard interception return by Rico Murray.
Geroy Simon made his Roughriders debut and kept his streak of consecutive games with a reception alive on a six-yard catch in the first quarter.
He added a 32-yard grab in the third to set up Clark’s TD, and now has catches in 174 straight games.
The Riders padded their lead in the fourth quarter with a 60-yard TD reception by Bagg and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Weston Dressler.
Bagg finished with a game-high 125 yards on five catches.
Durant completed 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards with no interceptions. Burris went 16-for-27 for 158 yards before giving way to Dan LeFevour with five minutes to play. LeFevour finished 3-for-4 with 21 yards.
NOTES: Saskatchewan scratched DB Macho Harris, LB Abraham Kromah, DB Terrell Maze and SB Eron Riley. Hamilton scratches included former Roughriders Luca Congi and James Patrick, as well as defensive end Brandon Boudreaux and offensive lineman Cody Husband.