Roughriders beat Blue Bombers 25-12 in pre-season action

Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Corey Mace during Green and White Day at SMF Field. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Saturday, May 18, 2024. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

It was audition night for the Green and White.

While many veteran players started Monday’s pre-season game for the Saskatchewan Roughriders against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, there were a few players vying for a spot with the CFL club that stole the show.

Rookie receiver Ajou Ajou caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shea Patterson and rookie linebackers Diego Fagot and Zakoby McClain each had interceptions as the Riders beat the Bombers 25-12 in front of a pre-season crowd at Mosaic Stadium.

“We’ve had guys step up all throughout camp and it’s going to make the (roster) decisions hard for us,” said Riders first-year head coach Corey Mace. “I wasn’t shocked by any of the playmakers making plays tonight; that’s been all camp.”

Saskatchewan’s uncontested starting quarterback Trevor Harris saw action in the first two series of the game alongside many of the other projected Week 1 starters including running back A.J. Ouellette.

Harris completed 7-of-9 passes for 123 yards — including a 65-yard connection to veteran receiver Shawn Bane Jr. — in what was the quarterback’s first game action since suffering a season-ending tibial plateau fracture in Week 5 last year.

“As I walked out on the field today, I just thought about what had happened and the work that had gone into coming back to this point and I kind of just looked out there and said ‘if something were to happen again, I’m at peace with it because I learned so much and I grew so much from it,’ ” Harris said after the game. “So, it was a good time to reflect a little bit.”

Meanwhile Ouellette — Saskatchewan’s prized free agent signing this off-season — carried the ball six times for 18 yards.

“Just seeing everything full speed, I thought we had some good runs in there (but) I left some out there,” said Ouellette. “It just felt good being in front of this crowd.”

The teams traded field goals to make it 3-3 before most of the backups entered the game including quarterback Mason Fine, who didn’t attempt a pass in his only series.

After McClain picked off Bombers’ quarterback Eric Barriere in the second quarter, Antonio Pipkin entered the game at quarterback for Saskatchewan.

And on his first throw, Pipkin threw it to the end zone for first-year CFLer Geronimo Allison, but pass interference was called on the play.

Riders running back Frankie Hickson punched it from there as Saskatchewan took the 9-3 lead after a missed convert.

The Bombers — who left most of their projected starters at home — responded with a 53-yard field goal to make it 9-6.

Pipkin — who was 0-for-3 on the day — threw two straight incomplete passes before Fagot intercepted Barriere on Winnipeg’s next series, which set up a Saskatchewan field goal to make it 12-6 at the half.

In the second half, Patterson entered the game for the Riders and provided a spark immediately as he tossed it to Ajou over the middle, before the 2024 seventh-round draft pick scampered untouched into the end zone to make it 20-6 for the Riders after a successful two-point convert.

“It was nice,” Ajou said after the game. “My family was there to watch. I had my big brother there and my mom, so it was good.”

The Riders attempted to tack on another three points, but the veteran Lauther — who completed 3-of-5 his field goals and 0-for-1 of his converts — was unsuccessful on his 53-yard field goal attempt, resulting in a rouge single to make it 21-6

After Patterson completed all three of his passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, rookie Jack Coan entered the game for Saskatchewan at quarterback in the fourth quarter.

And in his second series, the 25-year-old former Notre Dame Fighting Irish pivot put together a 10-play, 54-yard drive that ended in a 37-yard Lauther field goal to make it 25-6 for the Riders.

The Bombers scored their first major of the game — an eight-yard touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Kevens Clercius — with 2:22 left to make it 25-12 after an unsuccessful two-point convert attempt, which completed the scoring.

Coan finished the night having completed 6-of-8 passes for 40 yards while also adding three carries for four yards.

Backup battle

While Harris will be the starter, there’s a battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot between Fine, Pipkin, Patterson and Coan.

Fine, who won the backup job last year, played just one series before being pulled from the game by Mace after taking a sack on his final play, which was the result of a bad snap.

“He’s got to be smart with his body,” said Mace. “There was a situation with him, we had to be smart with him so he could continue to compete at a high level — we didn’t want to risk it.”

Patterson had the best performance of the four competing for the backup spot as he completed 100 per cent of his passes while also running the ball on the ground effectively.

And the 27-year-old — who handled short-yardage to begin last year — said he wants the No. 2 job more than ever this year.

“I’ve felt like I’ve done my time up here a little bit,” said Patterson. “I’ve been up here since 2020. I’ve been in a quarterback room with Michael Reilly and Nathan Rourke (in B.C.) and went over to Montreal and was Trevor’s backup.

“I came here and did the short yardage stuff last year, got my feet wet with these guys and ready to take on another role and just be ready when my number is called.”

Next up

The Riders will return to the field for training camp on Wednesday and Thursday in Saskatoon before departing to Edmonton on Friday ahead of their second and final pre-season game against the Elks on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The team will then be back in Regina for the final week of training camp on May 27 before the regular season begins on June 8 back in Edmonton.