REGINA — Cody Fajardo is two-for-two when it comes to earning home playoff games as a CFL starting quarterback.
Fajardo’s Saskatchewan Roughriders clinched second place in the West Division with a 29-24 victory over the Edmonton Elks on Saturday. The Riders will now host the third-place Calgary Stampeders in the West Division semifinal on Nov. 28.
“Being able to host a playoff game in my two years as a starter with this organization means a lot to me,” said Fajardo. “One of my goals heading into the year was to be able to host another playoff game. Now all we have to do is find a way to win that game because Calgary is on fire right now.”
The 9-4 Riders got a big game from receiver Duke Williams, who caught eight passes for 146 yards. Williams, who signed with the Riders on Oct. 4 after being released by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, had an impressive first half, catching six passes for 115 yards and one touchdown. His longest reception of the half was a 48-yarder.
Fajardo described Saturday’s game as an ongoing process for him and Williams.
“There’s been more trust each and every week, just getting our timing down, seeing how he likes to run routes, which routes he actually likes to run,” said Fajardo. “That’s what he can do every week. He’s one of the best receivers in the league.”
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Williams got a scare when he suffered a seemingly serious injury midway through the fourth quarter. After grabbing a short pass on the Edmonton 20-yard line, Williams absorbed a big hit from Elks defensive back Jonathan Rose.
Williams appeared to injure his left knee and was laid out on the field for an extended period. He walked off the field under his own power but with a mild limp. After the game Williams said his knee was burning after the hit and he was worried he might have torn something in the knee. But after some time on the sideline, he said his knee felt good enough for him to return to the game.
When asked if he would miss any playing time with the injury, Williams was adamant he would do whatever it takes to stay on the field.
“We’ve got business to handle and whatever I’ve got to do to get back on the field, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Williams. “If they want me to play next week (in the regular season finale), I’m going to play next week.
“I’ve got two days off and I’ll handle my business in those two days in the cold tub and the training room. I’ll let the rest take care of itself but I’m for sure going to being playing.”
The Riders trailed 21-20 heading into the fourth quarter but regained the lead when fullback Alexandre Dupuis scored on a four-yard pass from Fajardo with 6:28 remaining in the game. It was the first career touchdown for the 31-year-old Dupuis, who is in his sixth CFL season.
The 2-9 Elks narrowed the deficit to 26-24 with a 38-yard field goal by Sean Whyte with 3:12 remaining but the Riders sealed the victory on Brett Lauther’s 27-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the game.
The Elks opened the scoring midway through the first quarter when Taylor Cornelius connected with Jalen Tolliver on a 24-yard pass. The touchdown came after Saskatchewan’s Jamal Morrow fumbled a punt, which the Elks recovered on the Riders 22-yard-line.
Morrow immediately made up for his gaffe by returning the ensuing kickoff 82 yards. It was longest kick return of the season for the Riders, and after an Edmonton penalty for a horse-collar tackle on Morrow, Saskatchewan started the possession on the Elks eight-yard-line.
After a short run by William Powell, Fajardo hit Kian Schaffer-Baker on a six-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.
Fajardo followed up with a 14-yard scoring pass to Williams early in the second quarter to increase the Saskatchewan lead to 14-7. A conceded safety by the Elks and a single by punter Kaare Vedvik increased their lead to 17-7.
The Elks narrowed the gap to 17-14 late in the first half with Cornelius and Tanner Green combining on a five-yard touchdown pass. The scoring drive was eight plays and one Saskatchewan penalty with running back Walter Fletcher handling the ball on the first seven plays. He gained 41 yards on five carries and 15 yards on two receptions before Green scored the major.
In the third quarter Lauther kicked a 22-yard field goal to give the Riders a 20-14 lead.
Edmonton regained the lead late in the third quarter when Tolliver caught a four-yard scoring pass from Cornelius. The touchdown was set up two plays earlier when Tolliver hauled in a 30-yard pass on a play where the Riders appeared to have Cornelius trapped. The quarterback slipped away from the pressure and found Tolliver wide open in the flat.
Fajardo, who was 12 for 16 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, finished 23 of 32 for 245 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Cornelius was 20 for 30 passing for 224 yards with three touchdowns and one interception after going 12 for 18 for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Tolliver was Edmonton’s top receiver with five catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Fletcher added 88 yards rushing on 20 carries.
Pete Robertson and Deon Lacey had sacks for the Riders in the first half while AC Leonard added his 10th sack of the season in the fourth quarter. Jacob Dearborn came up with an interception on Edmonton’s final possession of the game.
Nafees Lyon had an interception for the Elks and Jake Ceresna had one sack.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2021.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press