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September 11, 2018

Notebook: The Roughriders’ defence makes its point

The Saskatchewan Roughriders staged an assault on the record books in Winnipeg.

Of the five interceptions the Roughriders had in their 32-27 CFL victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, two were returned for touchdowns.

Defensive end Willie Jefferson took his pick 97 yards for a TD early in the second quarter and linebacker Sam Eguavoen returned his theft 103 yards for a major late in that frame.

It’s just the second time in CFL history that a team has had two interception returns of at least 95 yards in the same game. On Aug. 27, 1972, Saskatchewan got a 112-yard TD return from Bruce Bennett and a 98-yard TD return by Lewis Cook in its 35-3 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

Eguavoen’s return is the third-longest in franchise history, behind the aforementioned return by Bennett and a 105-yarder by Paul Kirk against Calgary on Sept. 19, 1936.

“I can for sure say I was tired after that because I knew I had to get on the field-goal unit (for the convert) right after,” Eguavoen said after Tuesday’s practice at Mosaic Stadium.

“Like they say in basketball, the ball doesn’t lie. I caught a pick, they called it back (after Winnipeg successfully challenged for pass interference) and I was blessed enough to get another opportunity right away.”

Loucheiz Purifoy, with two, and Mike Edem also had interceptions for Saskatchewan against the Bombers.

The Roughriders’ 221 interception return yards in Winnipeg were the second-most in franchise history (behind only the 291 yards the team had in that game against Calgary in ’72) and the third-most in league history (behind the Calgary game in ’72 and the 247 yards the Edmonton Eskimos had against the Toronto Argonauts on Sept. 26, 2010).

The last time Saskatchewan had two pick-sixes in the same game was Aug. 25 of last season, when Jovon Johnson (40 yards) and Kacy Rodgers II (50 yards) intercepted Mike Reilly passes and returned them for touchdowns in a 54-31 victory over the Eskimos.

The Roughriders now have six interception returns for TDs this season — two by Nick Marshall and one each by Eguavoen, Jefferson, Tobi Antigha and Duron Carter — and that ties the franchise record set in 1976. That season, Lorne Richardson, Ken McEachern, Paul Williams, Jim Marshall, Cleveland Vann and Bill Manchuk had pick-sixes for the Roughriders.

In addition to the interception returns, the 2018 Roughriders defence also has a fumble return for a touchdown by Charleston Hughes.

“That just shows how hard our defence has been working this year and how much we emphasize scoring,” Eguavoen said. “Whether (the opponents) are backed up or we’re backed up, we’re still thinking about scoring the ball when we get a turnover — not if we get a turnover but when. That’s our defensive mindset right now.”

“They do know how to put the ball in the end zone,” Roughriders head coach-GM Chris Jones added of his D. “We need to get better at man coverage and we need to get better and be more consistent against the run and assignment-wise. But the one thing that they do know how to do is, if they get their hands on the football, they know what to do with it.”

Saskatchewan also has two punt returns for TDs (by Christion Jones and Kyran Moore) and a major off a blocked punt (by Eguavoen). The 10 return TDs is a single-season team record; the previous mark of eight was set in 1976 and matched in 2003 and ’05.

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Jefferson’s return in Winnipeg included some weaving, gesticulating and celebrating before he got to the end zone.

On Tuesday, Jefferson was asked if he regretted showboating and if he would repeat it if the opportunity presented itself.

“For sure I would do it again,” he replied. “It wasn’t frowned upon by the team or anybody in the organization.

“It was a big play and I did end up scoring. I would understand if I would have got caught or fumbled the football or something like that, but everything I did was with good intentions and it was going toward the right direction.”

Even so, the celebration didn’t sit that well with the Roughriders’ bench boss. In fact, Jefferson admitted he has been hearing about it from Jones “ever since we got on the plane to leave Winnipeg.”

“We looked over it this morning,” Jones said. “He needs to tuck the football and get in the end zone; that’s what he needs to do. But it was certainly a big play and a big play when we needed it to be.”

The play entertained the rest of the Roughriders, including quarterback Zach Collaros.

“Watching him run, I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ” Collaros said. “It was very interesting. Willie’s a funny guy. I think his justification was he was trying to run the clock out — but there were 13 minutes left in the second quarter.”

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Guard Dariusz Bladek wasn’t on the field for Tuesday’s practice.

Jones explained that Bladek was dealing with a family matter in Florida. The issue arose during Saturday’s game and Bladek had to return home to attend to it.

In Bladek’s absence, Josiah St. John worked at right guard with the starting offence Tuesday. It’s unknown who will start at the position Saturday against the visiting Ottawa Redblacks.

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The Roughriders announced Tuesday that they had added a pair of international wide receivers to the practice roster.

K.D. Cannon is a 22-year-old product of Mount Pleasant, Texas, who had NFL stints with the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys. He attended the Cowboys’ training camp in 2018 and played in three pre-season games.

The 5-foot-11, 183-pounder had 195 receptions for 3,113 yards and 27 touchdowns in 38 collegiate games with the Baylor Bears. He exceeded the 1,000-yard mark in both 2014 and 2016.

Jordan Smallwood, a 23-year-old out of Tulsa, Okla., joins the Roughriders after attending the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder played 21 NCAA games with the Oklahoma Sooners, catching 18 passes for 170 yards and one TD, rushing four times for 16 yards and two TDs, and making eight tackles.

Saskatchewan also announced it had released international wide receiver Lonnie Outlaw off the practice roster.