TORONTO - The day started with Riders Nation booing Andy Fantuz and the Ticats; it ended with them turning on their own as Hamilton stormed back with a 35-34 win in Regina.
This was a wild, stormy affair but in the end the Ticats won for the first time in Saskatchewan since Aug. 11, 2000.
If there were any lingering doubts about the quality of this Hamilton team after an 0-2 start, it was blown away by quarterback Henry Burris, who led the comeback by completing 19 of 23 passes in the second half.
The Ticats and Roughriders played Jekyll and Hyde all afternoon.
Hamilton looked horrid in a third quarter being out-scored 19-7. The Roughriders, who blew a 17-point lead in a loss last week in Hamilton, outdid themselves, this time blowing a 33-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Riders, after starting the season 3-0, have now given up 76 points and two huge leads in two weeks. And, while Fantuz didn’t come back and beat them Saturday, it was the former fan favourite who was doing the high-fives when it was all over.
“It’s just a big game,” Fantuz said after the win moved the Ticats to 3-2 and into a tie for first in the East with Toronto. “We’re fighting for first place in our divisions and it’s a huge game for us.”
The Ticats scored TDs on three consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter to wipe out a 33-14 deficit. Burris hit Onrea Jones from 10 yards, Dave Stala from 16, and then, with head coach George Cortez gambling on third down, found Jones from five yards with the winner.
Burris, was 28 for 38, 355 yards and his four TD passes tie him with Doug Flutie for sixth all-time in the CFL. Fantuz? Just two catches for 39 yards but just being out there opened areas for others, like Jones who had 65 yards and Chris Williams with nine catches and 109 yards as Burris spread the ball to eight different receivers.
The third quarter has been a minefield for the Ticats. They have been outscored 64-17 this season. But then Burris went to work. And by the time the three-minute warning came, Riders Nation was looking at a 35-33 deficit.
Just call him the smilin’ assassin. Henry Burris, aka Smilin’ Hank, was already public enemy No. 1 when he left Saskatchewan for Calgary as a free agent in 2005.
He has been rubbing it in ever since. In his first game back in Regina, Burris passed for 292 yards on 15 of 16 passing in a 29-21 win.
Now, he returns to lead the Ticats to an improbable comeback — engineering just Saskatchewan’s third loss in 10 games against Hamilton.
By comparison, Fantuz isn’t looking like much of a villain.
“Andy Fantuz is going to want to have the game of his life,” TSN analyst Jock Climie said.
Not that he’s complaining.
“I think there will be mixed feelings. There are some people that are still supportive and some that are a little salty over what happened,” Fantuz said.
That was before the game. Chances are things just got a little saltier.
WHAT NO TD?
Daryl Stephenson played five seasons and 50 games in the CFL without ever reaching the end zone. This season he had two TDs on two catches coming into Saturday’s game.
On Saturday, Burris hit him with a second-and-20 pass but the best he got was 10 yards short of paydirt — the first time this season he has touched the ball without scoring.
DINING OUT ON STARTERS
On Saskatchewan’s first drive, Korey Sheets went into the end zone on a dive over the line of scrimmage. Sheets is getting a lot of love and is quickly becoming the new favourite in Regina now that Fantuz has done his Benedict Arnold.
There has been a lot to like. It was Sheets’ fifth consecutive game with a TD and his sixth of the season.
Saskatchewan fans still wore their green Fantuz jerseys. A lot of them just used man’s best friend — duct tape — to cross out the last three letters. Clever. Thrifty.
It didn’t take Fantuz long to make an impression with a nifty over-the-shoulder catch, tip-toeing along the sideline for 16 yards on Hamilton’s second play.
Jones had two TDs, and two near misses. The Ticats should have had a TD and an 11-7 lead but Burris overthrew a wide-open Jones deep downfield on third and nine. Later in the second quarter, Burris hit him in the hands with a pass in the end zone, only to have it knocked away by two defenders.
Cats’ Brendan Boudreaux, for his sack of Durant, forcing the Riders to settle for a Chris Milo field goal in the second quarter ... If Fantuz is the best receiver in the CFL, Weston Dressler showed why he might be 1A with 64 yards on four first-half catches ... Tristan Jackson gave the Riders good field position returning the first two kickoffs — a 36-yarder that set up a TD, and another 42-yarder. But he finished the game in street clothes with an injured knee.