Corey Chamblin heads into the bye week with peace of mind concerning his backup quarterback.
With starter Darian Durant ailing, backup Drew Willy threw three first-half touchdown passes as the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 32-20 on Saturday night to remain the CFL’s only unbeaten team.
Willy made just his second career CFL start and first this season with Durant (foot) unable to play. But the sophomore quarterback was 14-of-25 passing for 269 yards before an Alumni Stadium gathering of 13,002 that endured intermittent rain throughout the contest. But it was nowhere near the deluge that fell during Edmonton’s 30-20 win in Hamilton’s home debut here July 7.
“Darian felt like he could go and possibly do some things but not all the things,” Chamblin said. “I said, ‘If you don’t think you’re 100 per cent then you won’t play 100 per cent.’
“But it was one of those things where I was excited to see what Drew Willy had and we found out we do have a good backup quarterback. The big thing was he managed the game. There were some mistakes there but he made less mistakes this year than he did last year and I see the growth process.”
Saskatchewan (5-0) is off until Aug. 9 when it visits Calgary.
Willy, 26, said he didn’t know he was starting until just prior to the opening kickoff and admitted to having butterflies in his stomach early on.
“I guess you’re going to get them but once you get the first throw or that first hit you get through that and just keep playing and go out there and try to be successful,” he said. “You prepare all week for it but once you’re told a switch goes off and you know you’re going to be the guy.
“I knew once I got the nod I had to be ready to go out there and perform at a high level. The guys around me did a great job, the defence did a great job. It was definitely an enjoyable experience.”
Willy had plenty of support.
Running back Kory Sheets ran for 140 yards, his CFL-record fifth straight 100-yard game to start the season. Slotback Geroy Simon had five catches for 125 yards and a TD — his first with Saskatchewan — and the Riders’ defence registered seven sacks and five turnovers.
Their most timely stop came early in the fourth when Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris was denied on third-and-goal from the Saskatchewan one-yard line to protect a 32-20 advantage. Then Willy marched Saskatchewan 62 yards on 11 plays, taking 6:01 off the clock before the Ticats regained possession at their 15-yard line with 3:39 remaining.
“I thought on the initial surge I stuck the ball into the end zone,” Burris said. “I guess the way things are set up they (officials) didn’t have a clean view of it but I thought I stuck the ball out (to break the plane of the goal-line) and they started pushing me back . . . but it shouldn’t even have come to that.
“For us to get off to such a good start (10-0 first-quarter lead) and then go into a lull for the next three quarters, there’s no excuse for it. We’re an offence that has more potential than that. Until we go out there and start executing the offence consistently, we’re going to have those type of lulls.”
Burris finished 26-of-41 passing for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
Saskatchewan swept the home-and-home series with Hamilton (1-4) following Sunday’s 37-0 victory at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders improved to 8-2 in their last 10 road games versus the Ticats.
The loss of Durant could have been huge for Saskatchewan. With him, the Riders led the league in scoring (37.8 points per game), total offensive yards (423) and rushing yards (168) and were third in passing (267).
Durant also had a league-best 12 TD passes without an interception as Saskatchewan won its opening four games by an average of 21 points. He threw for 347 yards and four TDs on Sunday and was named the league’s offensive player of the week.
But his injured right foot began to swell afterwards, prompting Durant to revert back to a walking boot. Durant originally hurt the foot in a July 11 road win over Toronto. He shed the boot and practised on a limited basis later in the week but was deemed a game-time decision.
With Durant sidelined, Sheets stepped up. The CFL’s rushing leader boosted his season total to 712 yards, breaking the league mark for most yards through five games to start a season of 646 yards set in 1975 by Calgary’s Willie Burden.
Sheets ran for 130 yards against Hamilton last week.
“Whew, that’s really good,” Sheets said. “Getting the win is more important than getting 100 yards but running for more than 100 yards every game feels good because the offensive line loves doing it and I love doing it with them.
“But excuse my words, Drew showed balls. He stayed in that pocked and threw the ball no matter who was coming. We’re just as confident with Drew as we are with Darian.”
Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf scored Saskatchewan’s other touchdowns. Chris Milo kicked the converts and three field goals with the other points coming on a safety.
Greg Ellingson and Lindsey Lamar had Hamilton’s touchdowns. Luca Congi booted the converts and two field goals.
NOTES — Linebacker Brandon Isaac, making his Hamilton debut, had an early sack but left later in the first half with a groin injury . . . Simon extended his consecutive games with a catch streak to 175 with his first-half TD grab . . . Riders offensive co-ordinator George Cortez was Hamilton’s head coach last season . . . A historic night for Burris. His 51-yard completion to Bakari Grant in the first moved him past former Ticats coach Ron Lancaster (3,384) into fifth in all-time regular-season completions. Burris’s touchdown toss to Lamar was the 307th of his career, moving him past Matt Dunigan into fourth all-time. Burris is also on pace to surpass the 50,000-yard plateau this season and become only the fifth player to do so.