WINNIPEG – Darian Durant called it the beginning of a Rider resurgence.
With his four touchdown passes and a defence that recorded six turnovers, the Saskatchewan quarterback was optimistic about a season turnaround after the Riders dominated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 45-23 on Sunday.
The victory in front of a fourth-straight sellout crowd of 30,518 at Canad Inns Stadium boosted the Riders’ record to 3-7 and gave the Bombers (7-3) their second straight loss.
Saskatchewan crushed the Bombers 27-7 last Sunday in Regina.
“To beat Winnipeg back to back, with the way they’ve been playing all year, is a huge start to this run we’re trying to go on here,” Durant said.
“It’s a great stepping stone, but it’s still a week-by-week process and we’ve got to keep it going.”
Durant completed 14-of-27 pass attempts for 230 yards and one interception. He threw a pair of TDs to Chris Getzlaf, who also had two receptions for touchdowns in last Sunday’s win.
Receiver Weston Dressler and fullback Neal Hughes also caught TD passes, while defensive back Chris McKenzie returned one of five of quarterback Buck Pierce’s interceptions 42 yards for a touchdown.
Rider kicker Chris Milo made one field goal from 12 yards out and missed from 35 yards.
It was Saskatchewan’s second consecutive win under head coach Ken Miller, who returned to the sidelines after rookie head coach Greg Marshall and offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry were fired Aug. 19.
“Just (Miller) being who he is, it makes the guys just want to go out and get it done for him,” Durant said.
“His presence is definitely felt by all the players and it shows with our play.”
The game also marked the season debut of Rider slotback Andy Fantuz, who re-joined the team after a failed tryout with the NFL Chicago Bears.
Fantuz, last year’s CFL outstanding Canadian and leading receiver, had two catches for 47 yards.
Saskatchewan scored 28 points off Winnipeg’s six turnovers, which also included a fumble by receiver Cory Watson.
The five picks was a career-high for the seven-year veteran Pierce.
“You turn the ball over that many times at any level, you’re not going to get the outcome that you want,” Pierce said.
“I’m disappointed in myself. Realizing that you’ve got to be better for us to be successful is a reality. But I’ve always carried that load and I’m confident I’ll come back.”
Pierce was 21-of-33 for 287 yards and no TDs.
He was replaced by Alex Brink with just over four minutes left in the game. Brink ended his team’s miserable afternoon with a nine-yard TD pass to Edwards with 55 seconds left in the game.
Edwards had six catches for a game-high 123 yards. Dressler led the Riders with four catches for 97 yards.
Bomber running back Fred Reid rushed 11 times for 46 yards, including a 15-yard TD. Justin Palardy was good on all three of his field-goal attempts from 18, 46 and 45 yards.
Winnipeg actually had a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, thanks in large part to Pierce completing 8-of-8 pass attempts for 140 yards.
But it was late in the first quarter when Pierce was sacked hard by rookie Saskatchewan safety Craig Butler, who also had two interceptions, recovered the Watson fumble and recorded six tackles.
Pierce was an easy target for the native of London, Ont., who burst off the end untouched and smacked Pierce so hard his helmet flew off before he hit the turf.
“We knew (Butler) was coming, but the receiver didn’t pick up the audible,” Pierce said.
When asked how the hit impacted him, Pierce said he was “pretty sore.”
“It was a lot of fun today,” Butler countered. “Things, they just came natural – made some reads, played the defence that we’ve been practising all year and we clicked today.”
He wasn’t sure if his hit on Pierce was the game’s turning point, noting as Durant did that all three phases of the team stepped up.
Saskatchewan flipped the tables in the second quarter, scoring 24 points, including 17 unanswered points and a Getzlaf and Dressler TD off interceptions.
The game had actually began on a high note for the Bombers, as they scored for the first time this season on their opening possession with Palardy’s 18-yard field goal at 5:34.
Saskatchewan’s second-quarter surge coincided with the loss of Bomber linebacker Joe Lobendahn, who left the field on a cart. He had a brace on his right knee and crutches and was going to be assessed.
The Bombers lost halfback Jonathan Hefney with just over a minute to play in the third quarter when he limped off the field.
Hefney said he took a knee to the quad that was painful so it was decided he should ice it.
The Bombers travel to Montreal to play the Alouettes (6-4) on Sept. 18. Saskatchewan hosts Toronto (2-8) the day before.
Hefney said it was tough to watch the Riders fortunes snowball on a sunny day that started with so much promise.
“We made some turnovers and then it went down hill,” he said.
“It was like a basketball game. They had a run and they ran with it. We’ve just got to come back to the drawing board and try not to let it happen again.”
Note to readers: A previous version of the story had the Blue Bombers and Roughriders playing their last game on Labour Day instead of Sept. 4.