VANCOUVER - Tino Sunseri's first CFL career touchdown pass sparked the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a comeback 20-16 victory over the B.C. Lions on Sunday.
Saskatchewan spoiled Lions president Dennis Skulsky's guarantee of a B.C. win.
As a result, the 33,196 fans who attended Sunday's game will receive a free ticket to a future game. The Riders (6-2) are now tied for second place with Winnipeg in the ultra-competitive West Division. The Lions (5-4) fell to third place.
The game was decided on the final play of the third quarter. With the Riders scrimmaging from the B.C. one-yard line, offensive lineman Dan Clark lined up as an eligible receiver at tight end and got his hands on a high Sunseri pass in the end zone and held on, while falling backward. The TD and Chris Milo's convert gave the Roughriders their first lead of the game and put them ahead to stay before Josh Bartel's punt single in the fourth quarter rounded out the scoring.
Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks to injuries.
The Riders were forced to play the second half with rarely used backup Sunseri at the helm. After playing the entire first half, starter Darian Durant was sidelined with an apparent finger injury.
Durant completed 9 of 15 passes for 104 yards, but watched the rest of the game in uniform from the sidelines while sporting a brace on his right throwing hand.
Sunseri entered the game having made only seven pass attempts this season. But he still helped the Riders rally from a 13-9 first-half deficit.
Sunseri completed 8 of 13 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown.
B.C. starter Kevin Glenn left the game in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Travis Lulay. Glenn completed 15 of 21 passes for 146 yards while Lulay went 4 for 8 for 27 yards.
The Lions built an early lead with large help from returner Tim Brown, whose spot in the B.C. lineup was uncertain earlier in the week because of the Canadian and import player ratio, He returned the opening kick-off 68 yards to the Saskatchewan 50-yard line. He helped set up a Paul McCallum 38-yard field goal that gave B.C. a 3-0 lead just two and a half minutes into the game.
Just over two minutes later, after B.C. linebacker Adam Bighill sacked Durant for a 10-yard loss in Saskatchewan territory, Brown returned a Josh Bartel punt 75 yards for a touchdown, staking B.C. to a 10-0 lead.
Milo put Saskatchewan on the scoreboard at the start of the second quarter with a 43-yard field goal. But the Lions regained their 10-point cushion with a McCallum 16-yard field goal that culminated a nine-play, 90-yard drive. With the three-pointer, McCallum moved into second place all-time in the CFL in field goals made with 674, surpassing former Calgary Stampeder and Lion Mark McLoughlin.
Milo reduced B.C.'s lead to 13-6 late in the second quarter as he connected on a 12-yard field goal. The points were aided by Will Ford's 37-yard run and an unnecessary roughness penalty on B.C. linebacker Bighill for nailing Anthony Allan near the sideline following a catch.
Milo brought the Riders within four points, thanks to a lucky break, on the final play of the first half. His 46-yard field goal attempt hit one upright and then fell between them, leaving B.C. with a precarious 13-9 advantage heading into the second half.
Brown racked up 191 yards worth of kick-off (107) and punt (84) returns in the first half. B.C. quarterback Glenn was also hot, completing 11 of 13 passes for 113 yards. Despite being rushed and hit after passes, Glenn managed to avoid being sacked by John Chick, who entered the game on pace for a CFL single-season record sack total.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Saskatchewan's offence stalled as wide open receiver Rob Bagg dropped a long Sunseri pass for what would have been a guaranteed touchdown. Running back Anthony Allen then dropped a short pass.
Stefan Logan and Brown then collided while fielding a punt, but they both managed to hold on to the ball together. Brown let Logan have it and he returned it 49 yards to the Saskatchewan 17-yard line. But the Lions had to settle for a McCallum 21-yard field goal after backup quarterback John Beck was called for illegal procedure.
The Riders quickly got back within four points, though, as Milo booted a 48-yard field goal and then held off B.C.'s attempted rally following Clark's TD.
Notes — B.C. cornerback Dante Marsh returned to the lineup after missing the previous game in Toronto with a sore hamstring. … With Brown back in the lineup, offensive lineman Andre Ramsey was held out. Saskatchewan running back Jerome Messam, a former Lion, was sat out with a shoulder injury. … Two officials ushered Saskatchewan players to the sidelines as the entire team remained huddled in midfield just before the Lions came out for pre-game introductions. The officials then remained between B.C. players and the Saskatchewan bench to make sure that no confrontations occurred. … Rolly Fox, the father of late Canadian Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox, received a loud ovation as he completed the opening coin toss. … Lions defensive lineman Jabar Westerman, who has run afoul of management in recent weeks due to an assault charge that is pending, was a late scratch. He was replaced by fellow Canadian Steven Doege.
Feature photo courtesy of REUTERS/Ben Nelms