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New B.C. quarterbacks shine in Lions’ pre-season win over Roughriders

B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke is sacked by Garrett Marino of the Saskatchewan Roughriders during first-half CFL pre-season action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 3, 2022. Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press

On a team loaded with veterans, rookie Quincy Mauger made the play of the game for the B.C. Lions on Friday night.

With 5:20 remaining in the third quarter and his team trailing the Saskatchewan Roughriders 12-10, the 27-year-old defensive back picked off Jake Dolegala’s pass on his own goal line, saving a touchdown and igniting a drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Michael O’Connor to Josh Pearson three minutes later.

Mauger also recorded an interception last week in Calgary. Is it enough for the free agent to make the CFL team after a 20-18 pre-season win at B.C. Place Stadium?

“I hope so,” Mauger said. “They are great coaches. They put me in position to make those plays. And also my defensive teammates. They’re flying around and relying on me.”

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Lions coach Rick Campbell was impressed with what he saw from both Mauger and fellow back Tyneil Cooper during his team’s first pre-season outings in three years.

“Fun guys to watch,” Campbell said. “They play hard, they have fun, they have good energy in practice and in games. They’re nice guys to have around.”

With the Lions preparing to launch their regular season next Saturday against the Edmonton Elks, final cuts must be announced by Saturday evening.

“There’s tough decisions to make,” Campbell said. “But we’re going to try to keep as many of these good players around, whether that means on the practice roster or whatever it is. Those guys have definitely been in the conversation.”

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Saskatchewan coach Craig Dickenson is pondering similar decisions.

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“I thought we got into a decent rhythm,” he said of his group, which also fielded a mixture of newcomers with established veterans. “Now we have some tough decisions to make on the guys who are your backups.

“I saw some good, I also saw some bad. Our tongues were dragging a little bit. We’ll have to get into a little better shape, but, for the most part, we got what we needed to out of this game.”

Saskatchewan used all three of its quarterbacks on Friday.

Dolegala, a rookie, took over midway through the third quarter and finished with 77 passing yards and one touchdown. Starter Cody Fajardo played just over 20 minutes, passing for 64 yards and recording a one-yard rushing touchdown.

Mason Fine, who appeared in one game for Saskatchewan last season, took over in the second quarter. He also returned late in the fourth, and finished with 36 yards.

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The Lions rolled out their new young, Canadian quarterback tandem, with success. In his first start of pre-season, Nathan Rourke logged 145 yards off 13-for-19 passing in the first half, including one touchdown.

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“It’s not going to be perfect, but I was happy with the mindset and the effort that the guys gave,” said Rourke, who started the first half with an impressive 16-play drive for 70 yards, which ended with a field goal from Sean Whyte.

The Roughriders replied with a field goal of their own to close out the first-quarter scoring.

With 9:52 left before halftime, Saskatchewan appeared to have scored the first touchdown of the game when Fajardo found Duke Williams in the end zone. A video review by the CFL’s command centre ruled the pass incomplete. But then a Saskatchewan challenge saw the ball moved to the one-yard line after B.C.’s Jalon Edwards-Cooper was called for pass interference.

Fajardo gave his team its first lead of the game when he eased the ball over the goal line. Brett Lauther’s convert attempt was unsuccessful, keeping the score at 9-3.

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With 1:24 remaining in the half, the Riders increased their lead to 12-3 off a 27-yard field goal from Lauther. Then, the Lions got the crowd roaring with 32 seconds left to play. Rourke hit Dominique Rhymes with a 45-yard bomb that took the home team to the two-yard line. Bryan Burnham then caught a pass deep in the end zone for his first touchdown of the pre-season.

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Whyte’s convert was successful, and the Lions took a 12-10 lead to the locker room.

Michael O’Connor took over for B.C. in the second half, finishing with 130 passing yards and a touchdown of his own.

After Mauger’s interception set the Lions up to take a 17-12 lead, the Riders regained their edge with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter when Dolegala hit Justin McInnis from five yards out. This time, it was kicker Henry Nell who missed on the convert, keeping the margin at 18-17.

The Lions answered back with 5:05 to go, retaking the lead as Whyte went 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts.

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B.C. finished its pre-season schedule with a 1-1 record. They dropped a 41-6 decision in Calgary last week. The Riders finished 0-2, losing 25-16 to Winnipeg on home turf.

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The Roughriders and the Lions will meet three times during the regular season this year, as the CFL schedule returns to its regular 18-game schedule after just 14 games in the pandemic-shortened 2021 campaign.

FOOTNOTES: With 2:47 left in the second quarter, B.C.’s Phil Norman was disqualified from the game for rough play, while Saskatchewan’s Anthony Lanier received a penalty for roughness.

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