CFL Pass

Saskatchewan Roughriders lose 23-17 to Hamilton Tiger-Cats

HAMILTON — The worst-case scenario came true for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Thursday’s 23-17 loss to the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Just three plays into CFL’s regular-season opener, Riders quarterback Zach Collaros adsorbed a hit to the helmet after sliding feet first at the end of a seven-yard run. Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence slammed into Collaros’ head with his shoulder, knocking the 30-year-old Riders quarterback out of the game.

The situation grew even more dire for the Riders in the third quarter when Cody Fajardo, the No. 2 pivot, left the game at 5:24 of the third quarter after being hit on an pass attempt.

Rookie Isaac Harker, with Fajardo taking part in two short-yardage plays, led the Riders to a 19-yard field goal by Brett Lauther at 4:05 of the fourth quarter.

The rookie quarterback completed four consecutive passes for 59 yards during the 11-play, 64-yard drive that led to Hamilton’s lead being pared to 20-16.

Lawrence, meanwhile, was assessed a 25-yard Grade 2 roughing-the-passer penalty for the hit on Collaros. The penalty is a part of the new rules installed by the CFL during the off-season to protect quarterbacks.

According to the CFL’s website, an offending player can be assessed a 25-yard penalty “for a direct blow to the quarterback’s head or neck with the helmet when that player has a clear view to the quarterback.”

Collaros, who missed four regular-season games and the 2018 West Division semi-final with concussion issues, was taken to the Riders’ locker room where he underwent testing as part of the CFL’s concussion protocol. He returned to the sideline later in the quarter in a jacket and ball cap.

Fajardo, however, finished off the seven-play, 81-yard drive (started by Collaros) in the first quarter with a two-yard run at 3:08. Lauther’s convert gave the Riders a 7-0 lead.

The touchdown drive was aided by 50 yards in penalties on three infractions by the Tiger-Cats.

Hamilton got on the scoreboard at 11:03 of the first quarter when Lirim Hajrullahu connected on a 48-yard field goal and the Tiger-Cats trailed 7-3.

The Tiger-Cats went ahead 10-7 just 17 seconds into the second quarter when Brandon Banks hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli. Hajrullahu’s convert capped a five-play 66-yard drive.

The Riders then turned to their ground game with Fajardo en route to grabbing a 13-10 lead over the Tiger-Cats. Saskatchewan ran ball on seven of 10 plays, with William Powell scoring on a one-yard run. Lauther was wide on the convert as the Riders led 13-7 at 12:43 of the second quarter.

Powell had five carries for 33 yards on the scoring drive.

The Riders relied on their running game to grab the halftime lead. Powell was the workhorse he was expected to be when the Riders signed the free agent. He had 14 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown in the opening half.

Overall, the Riders had 22 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns compared to completing six of 12 passes for 18 yards in the first 30 minutes.

Hamilton jumped ahead 16-13 after Frankie Williams returned a Jon Ryan punt 68 yards for a touchdown at 8:48 of the third quarter. The Tiger-Cats then led 17-13 after Hajrullahu’s successful convert.

Hajrullahu’s 39-yard field goal at 13:30 of the third quarter increased Hamilton’s lead to 20-13.

Hamilton regained its advantage of 9:24 of the fourth quarter when Hajrullahu connected on a 33-yard field goal to give the Tiger-Cats a 23-16 lead.

The Riders had an opportunity to cut into Hamilton’s lead when Lauther lined up for a 41-yard field-goal attempt. Lauther was wide right on the attempt as the Riders settled for a single and therefore trailed the Tiger-Cats 23-17.

Harker, making his first CFL regular-season appearance, was impressive at times in relief. He showed poise in the pocket while completing passes to Shaq Evans (11 and 19 yards), Naaman Roosevelt (nine yards) and K.D. Cannon (20 yards and 37 yards).

Lawrence then helped ice the contest for the Tiger-Cats when he intercepted Harker on a third-and-eight, last-gasp pass attempt.

Harker finished the game at 8-for-14 for 128 yards, with two interceptions.

Fajardo completed nine of 17 passes for 66 yards. Masoli was good on 17 of 28 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

What the Riders will do at quarterback remains to be seen. They return to action Thursday in Ottawa against the Redblacks.