Roughriders spoil Ticats debut of Burris, Fantuz
HAMILTON - Darian Durant and Weston Dressler upstaged Henry Burris and Andy Fantuz.
Durant threw four TD passes, including three to Dressler, to lead the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a convincing 43-16 win over Hamilton in the CFL opener for both teams on Friday night.
The Ticats were one of the CFL's most active teams this off-season, acquiring the 37-year-old Burris — the 2010 CFL's outstanding player — from Calgary and also making the biggest splash in free agency by signing Fantuz, the six-foot-four, 220-pound slotback who spent his first six seasons with Saskatchewan and was the league's top Canadian in 2010. The 28-year-old Fantuz signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $190,000 annually to play closer to his hometown of Chatham, Ont.
But while an Ivor Wynne Stadium gathering of 25,682 came expecting offensive fireworks from Burris and Fantuz, it was Durant and Dressler who stole the show.
Durant finished 25-of-34 passing for 390 yards and was sacked just once, while Dressler was his favourite target with 13 catches for 180 yards.
Burris was 28-of-39 passing for 284 yards and an interception, while Fantuz had a quiet night with five catches for 49 yards. Chris Williams, the CFL's top rookie last season, had a career-high nine receptions for 109 yards.
After hooking up on a nine-yard TD in the first half, Durant found Dressler on a 23-yard touchdown pass just 1:21 into the third to give Saskatchewan a 23-13 lead. Following an exchange of field goals, the two combined on a six-yard scoring pass with 16 seconds remaining in the quarter to give the Riders a commanding 33-16 advantage.
Corey Chamblin, Hamilton's defensive co-ordinator last season, won his CFL head-coaching debut on Saskatchewan's sidelines and handed George Cortez a loss in his first-ever game as pro head coach.
Despite the hype surrounding its off-season additions, Hamilton has traditionally struggled to start a CFL season. The Ticats last won an opener in 2004 and have just two victories to open a campaign since 2000. Saskatchewan, meanwhile, improved to 5-2 in season-opening contests since '06.
Chris Getzlaf and Kory Sheets had Saskatchewan's other touchdowns. Chris Milo added five converts and two field goals. The other points came on a safety.
Chevon Walker scored Hamilton's touchdown. Luca Congi, another former Roughrider, booted three field goals and a convert.
Saskatchewan went into halftime leading 16-13, thanks to a missed field goal and a 97-yard TD that didn't count.
Milo had a terrific chance to put the Riders ahead 19-13 but his 29-yard field goal try on the half's final play hit the upright. And Saskatchewan went into halftime ahead thanks to an illegal block call earlier in the quarter that negated Burris's 97-yard TD strike to Chris Williams with the visitors holding their three-point advantage.
A key 52-yard catch by Dressler was also allowed to stand despite the TV replay showing the tip of the ball appeared to hit the turf. Dressler made a diving attempt on the play and ran to the Hamilton 29-yard line. The Ticats didn't challenge it and the play stood.
Two plays later, Durant hit Getzlaf on a 25-yard TD pass to put Saskatchewan head 14-6.
The half's biggest play that counted belonged to Walker. The rookie tailback, who got the start ahead of veteran Avon Cobourne — who was a healthy scratch — made that decision count with a stellar 89-yard TD run at 6:52 of the second that pulled Hamilton to within 14-13. The five-foot-10, 201-pound Walker took the handoff from Burris, broke through a huge hole and then took off untouched the rest of the way with outstanding burst of speed.
Durant's touchdown pass to Dressler in the first opened the scoring.
Notes: Canadian Kevin Eiben got the start at linebacker for Hamilton, forcing American Markeith Knowlton — the CFL's top defensive player in 2010 — to backup status. ... Burris moved past former all-star Doug Flutie (41,355 yards) into sixth spot on the all-time CFL passing list. ... Saskatchewan sported white road uniforms and helmets for the game instead of their traditional green, looking more like the Michigan State Spartans. ... Rookie Ben Heenan, the first player taken in the 2012 CFL draft, started at right guard for Saskatchewan.