The Saskatchewan Roughriders stormed out of the gate Friday night but had to hold on for a hard-fought 33-29 victory over the B.C. Lions.
The Riders (1-0) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game, opening the contest with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by William Powell.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo then capped the next two drives with touchdown passes of 12 yards to Brayden Lenius and seven yards to Shaq Evans to up Saskatchewan’s lead to 21-0.
Fajardo threw 230 yards on the night, completing 28-of-35 attempts with two touchdowns and one interception.
Rookie quarterback Nathan Rourke started the game for the Lions (0-1) with veteran Michael Reilly dealing with elbow soreness, and threw for 194 yards, connecting on 10-of-18 attempts with two TDs and two interceptions.
Reilly was called into action in the second half and helped B.C. mount an ultimately unsuccessful comeback attempt, tossing for 203 yards with one touchdown.
B.C. receiver Lucky Whitehead had five catches for 136 yards and one TD.
Rourke, a 23-year-old native of Victoria, B.C., was picked off midway through the second quarter by Riders cornerback Nick Marshall who returned the interception for a 27-yard touchdown and gave Saskatchewan a seemingly comfortable 28-0 lead.
A 31-yard field goal by Brett Lauther with four minutes left in the half increased the cushion to 31-0.
Rourke connected with Whitehead on a 75-yard scoring pass late in the half but the B.C.’s struggles continued when the two-point convert attempt failed, making the halftime score 31-6 for the Riders.
Reilly entered in the third quarter and the Lions offence suddenly came to life. He completed nine-of-11 passes for 106 yards in the quarter and slashed the Riders lead to 32-15.
Meanwhile, Fajardo and the Riders struggled to match their first-half success.
Saskatchewan was limited to two first downs in the second half after compiling 19 in the opening two quarters.
Outscored 20-1 in the second half, the Riders took a 33-23 lead on a 77-yard single by punter Jon Ryan with 2:49 left in the contest.
When the Lions returned to the field, Rourke was back in the game. He engineered a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with an 18-yard scoring toss to Bryan Burnham. Rookie kicker Takeru Yamasaki missed the convert, forcing the Lions into an onside kick.
The Lions got the ball back deep in their end with 31 seconds left but A.C. Leonard sealed the victory for the Riders with an interception.