Willy Delivers in Backup Role as Saskatchewan Reaches 5-0
Willy Delivers in Backup Role as Saskatchewan Reaches 5-0

GUELPH, Canada—Corey Chamblin heads into the bye week with peace of mind concerning his backup quarterback.

With starter Darian Durant ailing, backup Drew Willy threw three first-half touchdown passes as the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 32–20 last Saturday night to remain the CFL’s only unbeaten team.

Willy made just his second career CFL start and first this season with Durant (foot) unable to play. But the sophomore quarterback was 14-of-25 passing for 269 yards before an Alumni Stadium gathering of 13,002 that endured intermittent rain throughout the contest.

“Darian felt like he could go and possibly do some things, but not all the things,” Chamblin said. “I said, ‘If you don’t think you’re 100 percent, then you won’t play 100 percent.’

“But it was one of those things where I was excited to see what Drew Willy had and we found out we do have a good backup quarterback. The big thing was he managed the game. There were some mistakes there, but he made less mistakes this year than he did last year and I see the growth process.”

Saskatchewan (5–0) is off until Aug. 9 when it visits Calgary.

Willy, 26, said he didn’t know he was starting until just prior to the opening kickoff and admitted to having butterflies in his stomach early on.

“I guess you’re going to get them, but once you get the first throw or that first hit, you get through that, and just keep playing, and go out there and try to be successful,” he said. “You prepare all week for it but once you’re told, a switch goes off and you know you’re going to be the guy.”

Strong Supporting Cast

Running back Kory Sheets ran for 140 yards, his CFL-record fifth straight 100-yard game to start the season. Slotback Geroy Simon had five catches for 125 yards and a TD—his first with Saskatchewan—and the Riders’ defence registered seven sacks and five turnovers.

Their most timely stop came early in the fourth quarter when Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris was denied on third-and-goal from the Saskatchewan 1-yard line to protect a 32–20 advantage. Then Willy marched Saskatchewan 62 yards on 11 plays, taking 6:01 off the clock before the Ticats regained possession at their 15-yard line with 3:39 remaining.

“I thought on the initial surge I stuck the ball into the end zone,” Burris said. “I guess the way things are set up they [officials] didn’t have a clean view of it, but I thought I stuck the ball out [to break the plane of the goal-line].”

Burris finished 26-of-41 passing for 395 yards and two touchdowns.

Saskatchewan swept the home-and-home series with Hamilton (1–4) following the prior Sunday’s 37–0 victory at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders improved to 8–2 in their last 10 road games versus the Ticats.

The loss of Durant could have been huge for Saskatchewan. With him, the Riders led the league in scoring (37.8 points per game), total offensive yards (423) and rushing yards (168), and were third in passing (267).

Durant also had a league-best 12 TD passes without an interception as Saskatchewan won its opening four games by an average of 21 points. He threw for 347 yards and four TDs in the first meeting against the Ticats and was named the league’s offensive player of the week.

With Durant sidelined, Sheets stepped up. The CFL’s rushing leader boosted his season total to 712 yards, breaking the league mark for most yards through five games to start a season of 646 yards set in 1975 by Calgary’s Willie Burden.

Sheets ran for 130 yards against Hamilton last week.

“Whew, that’s really good,” Sheets said. “Getting the win is more important than getting 100 yards, but running for more than 100 yards every game feels good because the offensive line loves doing it, and I love doing it with them.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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