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Undefeated Riders eye fast start, home-and-home sweep against winless Ticats

REGINA — Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Trevor Harris doesn't want his team getting in the habit of snatching victories from the jaws of defeat.
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Trevor Harris (7) during first half CFL football action against the Hamilton Tiger Cats, in Hamilton, Ont., Sunday, June 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

REGINA — Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Trevor Harris doesn't want his team getting in the habit of snatching victories from the jaws of defeat.

The 2-0 Roughriders are in first place in the CFL’s West Division after impressive comeback road victories over the Edmonton Elks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

In those victories, 29-21 over the Elks on June 8 and 33-30 over the Ticats on June 16, the Riders were outscored 48-25 in the first three quarters. But in the fourth quarters, the Riders dominated their opponents 37-3 to escape with the victories.

“It shows that we can climb out of a hole, but I don't think that's something you want to make a habit," Harris said. "It's the first time in Rider history that we had two double-digit comebacks in the fourth quarter.

"That's a stat but we don't want to make a habit of it. This is not a team of people that are going to be flinching. We're just going to continue to press on and always believe.”

Harris entered Week 3 as the CFL's leading passer with 695 yards on 54-of-76 passing. Heading into Sunday’s home game against the 0-2 Ticats, Harris knows it’s important for the Riders to play a complete game.

“I know it’s a cliché but we want to start fast and play for 60 minutes,” Harris said. “But really, our focus is just one play at a time, continuing to do the right thing play after play.”

Although the Riders offence is moving the ball well through the air, the running game is a different story. Saskatchewan had only 73 yards rushing in the two victories.

Expectations entering the season were higher, especially after the signing of running back A.J. Ouellette in the off-season. Ouellette, who gained 1,009 yards on 178 carries in 2023 with the Toronto Argonauts, has been held to 64 yards on 29 carries in the first two games.

Riders head coach Corey Mace is confident Ouellette can get going.

“There’s a couple things. We’ve got to make sure that we're on our P's and Q's as far as our blocking assignments are, opening up the hole, sustaining blocks, not missing anything," Mace said. "And A.J. is going to have to unleash the hammer, so to speak, as well."

The Ticats will be looking to quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to continue his strong start to get Hamilton in the win column. Mitchell, in his 12th CFL season, is right behind Harris with 680 yards on 54-of-76 passing.

A two-time Most Outstanding Player who won two Grey Cups with the Calgary Stampeders, Mitchell has struggled in recent seasons but his quick start in 2024 has garnered attention in CFL circles.

“I get the interest. I don't remember the last time I threw for 300 yards or three touchdowns or anything, so I get it when they look at it and said we had a good game," said Mitchell, who went 27-of-38 for 380 yards in last week’s loss to the Riders.

"But if I’d trusted the read on a couple of more plays, we’d have moved the ball, we wouldn’t have had the two-and-out and we might have won the game."

The Ticats feel they are more than capable of winning on Sunday.

“We’ve got to play a little tighter. We’ve got to make plays, we’ve got to make our plays when it's time. We had chances to end the game and we didn't end it. Looking at the film, we just know that we have to finish," defensive back Richard Leonard said.

SWEET SWEEPS: Since 1982, the Riders and Ticats have had four pure back-to-back sets, with no bye weeks in between. The Riders have won all four back-to-back sets, sweeping the Ticats in 2006, 2007, 2013 and 2014.

ROAD WARRIORS: This is the first time that the Riders have ever started a season 2-0 with both wins coming on the road. They failed to do so in the previous 11 seasons that started with two road games.

INJURY BUG: Saskatchewan offensive lineman Philip Blake is expected to be sidelined for an extended period after suffering a quad injury in last Sunday's game against Hamilton. The 38-year-old missed the first 12 games in 2023 with a torn pectoral muscle. Ryan Sceviour, a West Division all-star in 2022 with Calgary, will move into the starting lineup to replace Blake.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2024.

Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press