Roughriders pick up 29-21 win over Elks to open CFL season

Heywood Yu/ Regina Leader-Post. Roughriders head coach Corey Mace.

Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

A massive fourth quarter by the Saskatchewan Roughriders powered them to victory over the Edmonton Elks in the opening week of the CFL season.

Quarterback Trevor Harris threw three touchdown passes to Shawn Bane Jr., and running back A.J. Ouellette scored his first major in green and white, as the Roughriders (1-0) won 29-21 over the Elks (0-1) on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Saskatchewan trailed 11-7 at the half and 21-8 early in the fourth quarter, before putting three touchdowns on the board to complete the comeback.

“It says a lot about the group that we have and the belief that we have,” said Riders’ head coach Corey Mace, who picked up his first career victory as a CFL head coach. “I was extremely pleased to see our guys band together and find a way to get it done, however that looked, there was a lot of guys across the team that had to make big plays for us in the second half.”

Harris completed 22 of 31 passes for 305 yards on the day and while he had the three touchdowns, he also threw two interceptions. In the first half, the 38-year-old quarterback also became the 19th player in CFL history to eclipse 30,000 career passing yards.

“The mark of good teams are teams that find ways to win whatever the circumstance is,” said Harris, who was playing in his first regular season game since a knee injury in Week 6 of the 2023 season. “This team is a team of guys that just don’t flinch.

“No matter what the situation is, we’re going to keep swinging. We’re going to keep throwing and obviously it wasn’t our best effort today, offensively we left a lot out there on the field, so we’ve got a lot to clean up but the mark of those teams are the ones that can find ways to win no matter what.”

Along with three touchdowns on five catches, Bane Jr. had 125 receiving yards to lead the team in that category as the Riders put up 338 yards of net offence to Edmonton’s 349.

“In halftime, we kind of just settled down,” said Bane Jr., who is celebrating his 29th birthday on Sunday. “Trev was obviously leading the pack.

“He was poised and just made the throws and I’m just a byproduct of that.”

Defensively, Rolan Milligan Jr. led the way for the Riders with 10 total tackles and a pass knockdown, while Bryan Cox Jr. and Jameer Thurman each had fumble recoveries. Linebacker C.J. Avery had an interception in his CFL debut while fellow first-year American DaMarcus Fields had six tackles and a sack.

Scoring summary

After the Elks opened the scoring with a field goal in the first quarter, Saskatchewan put up the first touchdown of the game as Harris put together a six-play, 70-yard drive capped off by a 27-yard strike to Bane Jr., which put Saskatchewan on top 7-3 with the convert.

After the Riders conceded a single point on a punt return to make it 7-4, the Elks went back on top with 1:06 left in the first half as quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson connected with receiver Hergy Mayala for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 11-7 for the Elks.

The Riders looked to put together a drive in the final minute of the first half, but Harris was intercepted by Elks’ defensive back Darrius Bratton to end the half.

In the second half, on the Riders eighth punt of the game in their first 10 series, Adam Korsak booted it 62-yards through the back of the end zone for the rouge to make it 11-8.

On Edmonton’s next drive, Bethel-Thompson hit Eugene Lewis for a 52-yard gain before the quarterback connected with Mayala for his second touchdown of the day to put Edmonton up 18-8 with the convert.

After Harris threw his second interception of the game, the Elks tacked on a field goal to make it 21-8 early in the fourth quarter.

Harris then made up for the interception in his next series as he threw a 40-yard pass to Bane Jr. for his second touchdown of the day to cut Edmonton’s lead to 21-15 with the convert.

After Thurman recovered a fumble on Edmonton’s next series, Ouellette plowed into the end zone for his first touchdown as a Rider. With the convert, Saskatchewan went on top 22-21 with just over eight minutes to go.

With two minutes left in the game and Edmonton driving the field, Cox Jr. stripped Bethel-Thompson and then recovered the loose ball.

That turnover allowed increase their lead as Harris threw his third touchdown pass to Bane Jr., this one for 33 yards, as Saskatchewan went on top 29-21 with the convert.

After Avery intercepted Bethel-Thompson, Saskatchewan attempted to put the game away, but Ouellette fumbled the ball with 28 seconds left, allowing the Elks back in the game.

However, as time expired, Bethel-Thompson’s Hail Mary pass to the end zone fell incomplete as Saskatchewan survived the late scare to pick up the victory.

Off the board

In the first quarter, Elks’ returner Javon Leake had a 75-yard punt return touchdown, but it was called back due to an illegal block penalty.

Near the end of the second quarter, Riders’ returner Mario Alford had a 91-yard punt return touchdown, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. Alford also had a 32-yard punt return wiped off the board due to a holding penalty in the first quarter.

Penalty problems

Along with the two special teams holding penalties, the Riders have four more infractions including a 25-yard game ejection penalty as right guard Logan Ferland was given a rough play disqualification penalty with 5:53 left in the second quarter after striking Elks’ linebacker Leon O’Neal Jr. in the helmet after a play.

Ryan Sceviour entered the game at right guard for the remainder of the game for Saskatchewan, who gave back-to-back sacks following Ferland’s ejection but didn’t allow any more in the rest of the game.

Saskatchewan committed five total infractions in the first half for 75 yards. However, in the second half, the Green and White then had just one penalty with safety Jayden Dalke talking a 10-yard objectionable conduct penalty.

“It’s the most frustrating thing,” Mace said of the penalties. “It’s kind of putting a cloud over what’s happening here.

“We’ve just got to be smarter. Those are selfish kind of things and not the good selfish that we’re looking for, so it’ll be handled — I’ll keep that in house — but we have to be better.”

Edmonton, meanwhile, had 11 penalties for 101 yards in the game.

Next up

The Roughriders will play their second straight road game in Week 2 as they will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1) on June 16 (5 p.m., TSN).

The Ti-Cats lost 32-24 to the Calgary Stampeders in their opening game of the season on Friday.