Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller suggested in the lead up to Saturday’s game with Toronto that he would consider using backup quarterback Steven Jyles if Darian Durant didn’t perform.
The starter responded to the challenge. Durant threw three first-half touchdowns for Saskatchewan as the Roughriders beat the Argonauts 32-22 before 29,316 fans at Mosaic Stadium.
“That’s part of how he perceives himself, as being somebody who’s going to excel in a tough situation,” Miller said of Durant.
“Certainly he’s done that several times on the year, so he has confidence in himself and I think our players have confidence in him.”
The win moved Saskatchewan (8-6) into a tie for first in the CFL’s West Division with the Calgary Stampeders, who play the league-leading Montreal Alouettes on Monday.
“If you would look at the alternative, it would have put us really behind the 8-ball,” said Miller.
“Now we’re in a situation where we’re back battling in a place to shape our own destiny.”
Toronto (3-11) has lost four in a row.
“I feel bad for the guys because they worked really hard and that’s part of it,” said Argos head coach Bart Andrus. “I’m proud of them the way they keep fighting, keep hanging in, but we’re just too hot and cold right now.
“Consistency is our deal. We have to get consistent.”
In Kerry Joseph’s fourth game against the Riders since his trade from Saskatchewan in early 2008, Durant finally out-gunned his one-time mentor.
Durant finished 14-for-23 with 196 yards and three touchdown throws, eclipsing Joseph who completed 8-of-22 attempts for 82 yards and one interception.
Chris Getzlaf got the Riders on the board with a 33-yard catch-and-run from Durant on Saskatchewan’s first possession.
Andy Fantuz did the same on a 35-yard gain in the second quarter and Durant connected with Weston Dressler on a seven-yarder to the end zone as the Riders staked out a 28-14 half-time lead.
“The thing that (Durant) did tonight was he got the ball to receivers and/or backs in situations where they weren’t the primary, secondary, or even the third reciever in the read,” said Miller.
Joseph and Durant squared off briefly in Joseph’s initial return to Regina last July, but Durant was knocked out of the game in the first quarter. Michael Bishop was the Riders’ starter when they visited the Argos later in 2008.
Both Joseph and Durant threw for three touchdowns and an interception in a 46-36 Saskatchewan win July 11, but Joseph won the quarterback battle, throwing for 348 yards to Durant’s 205.
“It’s not me against Kerry,” said Durant. “It’s about the Riders against the Argos and we needed this game to stay in the hunt for first place.”
Joseph was slow to recover from a hit on his touchdown run with one second left in the first half.
He was replaced by Cody Pickett to start the third quarter but returned to the game with eight minutes left and failed to complete any of six passes in the fourth.
“Cody tore an oblique muscle … and every time he would throw the ball it felt like he was getting stabbed in the side,” said Andrus.
“So he couldn’t throw the ball as effectively as he should have been able to do it … so that’s when we decided to get Kerry back in the game.”
Saskatchewan’s most prolific offensive weapon was Jason Armstead, who returned five punts for 63 yards, including a 43-yarder on the Riders’ first possession of the game to set up Getzlaf’s TD.
He also brought back kick returns of 48 and 45 yards, one of which gave the Riders the field position to score on a seven-yard Stu Foord run four plays later.
Toronto also scored on a 16-yard touchdown run by Jeff Johnson, field goals from 11 and 42 yards by Justin Medlock, and a safety given up by Riders kicker Luca Congi.
Performing punt and kickoff duties in addition to placekicking, in the wake of an injury to regular punter Jamie Boreham, Congi contributed a single and a field goal.
Toronto hosts the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday, while the Roughriders travel to Calgary to face the Stampeders next Saturday.