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B.C. Lions rally from early deficit to beat Roughriders 32-17, match best start since 2007

B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke throws against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during second-quarter CFL action in Regina on Friday night. Heywood Yu / The Canadian Press

It took a little while, but the B.C. Lions’ offence continued to roll in a 32-17 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night.

The Lions fell behind 17-4 in the second quarter, but responded with 28 unanswered points to improve their record to 5-1 while dropping the Riders to 4-4.

Nathan Rourke, who continues to shine in his first season as the starting quarterback, said that while there was some concern about the slow start, the Lions were confident they could find their way as the game progressed.

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“There was nothing special (to the comeback). They were just there making some plays and we just needed to execute at (a) higher level. We’re very confident that when we execute to the best of our abilities, nobody can get in our way except ourselves,” said Rourke.

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“Credit to Saskatchewan, they made some great plays early on but we found a way. I’m extremely proud of the guys for doing so.”

Like Rourke, defensive lineman Mathieu Betts was confident the Lions had the time and ability to turn the game around.

“The vibe was good even though we were down, but the way Number 12 can play, we know we’re always in the game. We really didn’t change anything defensively. We had a couple of tweaks that we had to do and just try to reset and do our best to try to give the offence the ball back and that’s what we did,” said Betts.

B.C. entered the game with only four sacks allowed in its first five games. Anthony Lanier and Charleston Hughes picked up sacks for the Riders in the early going, but the Lions offensive line regained its composure and provided Rourke with outstanding protection for the rest of the game.

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“They did a great job. They didn’t blink early in the game. It was a rough start and they’d be the first ones to tell you that. But they certainly got together,” said Rourke.

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“That’s a very talented defensive line in Saskatchewan . . . We knew our offensive line was going to have their hands full and they did a really good job handling that and getting better as the game went on. That was a big key to us turning things around.”

The Lions, who are chasing the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers for first place in the West Division, haven’t started a season at 5-1 since 2007, when they topped the division with a 14-3-1 record.

Friday’s game was the first of three scheduled meetings between the teams in a five-week stretch.

But Rourke wasn’t ready to admit that Friday’s victory gives the Lions a leg up on the Riders heading into the two upcoming games.

“I think every game that we play, whether it’s East or West, are important (but) the West games are especially important,” said Rourke. “It’s not easy to beat a team once, never mind three times during a season.”

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Still, Rourke continued to live up to the hype Friday by completing 27 of 33 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 1,941 yards on 153-of-193 passing with 16 touchdowns.

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The Lions have a talented group of receivers which will only get better next week with the expected return of veteran Bryan Burnham who has been sidelined since June 25 with fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

The Riders are heading into a bye week after working through a couple of rough weeks. They were hit with a COVID-19 outbreak following their July 16 game in Halifax against Toronto that left them undermanned for last week’s return game against the Argos. They also had to deal with high profile suspensions of defensive tackle Garrett Marino (four games) and receiver Duke Williams (one game).

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who missed last week’s game because of COVID protocols, suffered damage to his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in Week 2 and has been wearing a large brace in every game since.

Despite those issues, the Lions weren’t about to underestimate Fajardo.

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“Fajardo is a good quarterback in this league. He’s obviously a great athlete, so that’s how I’m treating him . . . If he’s out there, he must be ready to roll and be the guy to give them the best chance to win the game so that’s how we treated him,” said Betts.

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The Lions got touchdowns from Rourke on a one-yard run along with a 15-yard reception from Jevon Cottoy and a 14-yard catch by Dominique Rhymes. Kicker Sean Whyte had field goals of 16 and 39 yards and added a single on a miss from 46 yards. Stefan Flintoft had two singles on kickoffs. The Lions also got a safety when Marcus Sayles tackled Riders running back Jamal Morrow in the end zone in the second quarter.

Betts had two sacks with Obum Gwacham and Tibo Debaille collecting one sack each. Former Rider Loucheiz Purifoy had an interception for the Lions.

Fajardo, on a one-yard run, and Tevin Jones, on an eight-yard reception, scored touchdowns for Saskatchewan. Brett Lauther added a 28-yard field goal.

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