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Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Ed Gainey reaches for the ball against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Regina on Aug. 14, 2021.Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press

Cody Fajardo wanted to make sure the Saskatchewan Roughriders played a full 60 minutes on Saturday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

In last week’s season opener against the B.C. Lions, Fajardo and the Riders raced out to a 31-0 first half lead. The script flipped in the second half when the Lions launched a furious comeback bid. The Riders managed to hold on for a 33-29 victory.

The Riders (2-0) trailed 1-0 after the first quarter Saturday but that would be the last time they trailed in the game. They held a 17-8 halftime lead and a 27-8 lead after three quarters.

Fajardo couldn’t say enough about the Riders delivering a statement win over a tough Hamilton (0-2) team.

“Coming off Week 1 to Week 2, the biggest thing for us was finishing. We did a great job finishing with the ball in our hands on that last drive,” said Fajardo. “And our defence did a great job of not even allowing the Ticats to get close.

“This was a huge improvement.”

Fajardo was impressive, completing 17-of-25 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 66 yards.

The victory, in front of 27,076 fans, improved the Riders to 2-0. In 2019, the Riders stumbled out of the starting gate with an 0-2 record but managed to right the ship and finish first in the West Division with a 13-5-0 record.

That growing experience, which included Fajardo replacing an injured Zach Collaros as the starting quarterback, has impacted the Riders this season.

“In 2019, we got off to a slow start and it was because of timing. We got to hit it from Day 1 of training camp with me and the receivers,” said Fajardo. “Zach took a ton of reps in 2019 at training camp that resulted in us taking some time before we got rolling. We have a very veteran team that’s been here before and I think that’s the biggest reason why you see us jelling a little faster this year.”

Rookie defensive end Jonathan Woodard recorded three sacks for Saskatchewan. The six-foot-five, 271-pound player out of Central Arkansas gave the Riders a little breathing room late in the first half when he sacked Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and forced a fumble that was recovered by A.C. Leonard on the Ticats’ eight-yard line.

On the next play, Fajardo connected with Mitchell Picton on an eight-yard scoring pass. It was the first CFL touchdown for Picton, a Regina product who starred for the University of Regina Rams before joining the Riders.

Woodard was almost at a loss for words to describe his game.

“I’m still soaking it all in. It’s been two and half years since I’ve played in a game,” said Woodard, a seventh-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2016 NFL draft.

Woodard had stints with the Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills before signing with the Riders.

“This is the best game I’ve ever had,” he added.

In addition to Woodard’s three sacks, the Riders got two sacks from Leonard and one from Gary Johnson Jr.

Picton and Kyran Moore caught touchdown passes for the Riders with kicker Brett Lauther chipping in three field goals.

Hamilton’s Brandon Banks, the CFL’s Most Oustanding Player in 2019, had a quiet first half, recording three catches for 20 yards and one rushing attempt for 12 yards. He finished the game with five catches for 30 yards.

Masoli scored Hamilton’s first touchdown on a quarterback sneak but it wasn’t as easy as that sounds.

Hamilton ran four consecutive QB sneaks from the Saskatchewan one-yard line. The Riders had one stop for no gain, and were twice penalized for being offside. The second penalty negated a Masoli fumble that was recovered by Hamilton but would have left the Ticats facing a second and goal situation from the six-yard line.

Fajardo gave the Riders their first lead of the game early in the second quarter. With the ball on the Hamilton 14-yard line, Fajardo faked a handoff to William Powell and then sprinted around the right end into the end zone for the score.

Powell was the game’s leading rusher, gaining 89 yards on 18 carries. Rookie Brayden Lenius was the game’s top receiver, catching five passes for 62 yards.

The Ticats replaced Masoli with backup Dane Evans late in the third quarter. Masoli finished 17-of-25 passing for 135 yards and two interceptions. Evans was 3-for-10 passing for 21 yards.

The Riders lost starting receiver Shaq Evans in the second quarter when some players rolled up the back of his legs as he was blocking on Fajardo’s touchdown run. Head coach Craig Dickenson believes the injury was to Evans’ foot or ankle.

The game got a little chippy with a fracas breaking out after Moore’s touchdown in the third quarter. Jake Harty of the Riders and Jovan Santos-Knox were ejected for rough play.