The last time the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the B.C. Lions, the storyline involved Saskatchewan getting just enough breaks to overcome a seeming gap in talent. But last night, the 'Riders managed to win an entirely different type of game.
The 'Riders' offence was perfectly prepared for the CFL's toughest defence: a constant two-back threat from Kory Sheets and Jock Sanders kept the ball moving on nearly every 'Rider possession, while Weston Dressler took advantage of some unusual breakdowns in coverage to put together what may be the best half of play I've ever seen from a Saskatchewan receiver. And Darian Durant (behind a remarkably effective offensive line) neatly took advantage of the opportunities to put 27 points on the board - including a crucial late touchdown strike to Greg Carr at the point in the game when his offence has all too often shut down.
Meanwhile, the 'Riders' defence put together what may have been its best performance of the season, overmatching one of the CFL's top offences through most of the game.
Even with their full, star-studded slate of receivers on the field in the first half, the Lions couldn't put together any big plays against the 'Riders. And the entire defence deserves credit for that result: Travis Lulay faced blanket coverage when he did throw deep passes, and also had his timing disrupted by a steady pass rush.
Nor did B.C. manage much of a ball-control game through the better part of four quarters. Instead, the Lions' two touchdown drives were built on desperation heaves at the end of the game - at the point when throwing into coverage and hoping for the best was their only option.
Like the offence, the 'Riders' defence then rose to the occasion when it counted most, shutting down the Lions' final drive without allowing a single completion.
What's more, the fact that the Lions came as close as they did was mostly the result of a number of fluke plays going against the 'Riders. The single turnover in the 'Riders' favour before the final drive was immediately followed by Durant's lone interception; Drew Willy uncharacteristically turned the ball over on a short-yardage play to hand B.C. the ball with great field position; and Taj Smith gave the Lions one last chance by muffing an onside kick reception.
Which means that as much as the 'Riders proved in yesterday's win, they once again have significant room to do better. And neither B.C. nor Calgary figures to have an easy job trying to stay ahead of the 'Riders in the standings as long as Saskatchewan keeps up yesterday's performance level.