Never one to shy away from talking both on and off the field, Charleston Hughes made an impactful statement in his first game with his new team.
The 11-year veteran, in his first season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, had three sacks in his new uniform and led a spirited defensive effort in a 27-19 victory over the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL regular-season opener for both teams.
“I think I made a statement,” Hughes said. “I think I set the tone for the rest of the season for what kind of game it’s going to be and what I’m going to bring to every game.”
Hughes and the Riders defensive unit disrupted Argos quarterback Ricky Ray, pressure him and limited Toronto’s offensive push for much of the first half. The Argos managed just a field goal in the first two quarters and trailed 14-4 at halftime.
“It’s very important to get pressure on (Ray),” Hughes said. You have to get to him because he’s dangerous when he’s sitting in the pocket and getting ready to throw the ball.”
Ray finished with respectable numbers – 233 yards passing on 22-of-37 attempts – but it was the one interception he threw in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for the Riders.
Trailing 17-12 with 13 minutes remaining, Ray had the Toronto offence marching towards midfield. That’s when Riders cornerback Nick Williams picked off a Ray pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to restore a double-digit lead, 24-12.
“We came out and we did what we had to do,” Hughes said of the team’s defensive effort. “Game in and game out we have to get better. There is a lot we could have done better in this game. I feel like once we go back and watch the film and review all the mistakes we can get better.”
Toronto’s head coach Marc Trestman said the pressure from Hughes and Saskatchewan’s front four disrupted the Argos timing and put the team in an early hole.
“I don’t think we were clean in our run game. We certainly weren’t clean in throwing the football either,” Trestman said. “We didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing. We did get better in the second half and moved the ball, but we can’t allow our defence to play as well as it did and not do more with the football.”
Toronto did gain some traction in the second half. Ray marched the team deep inside Saskatchewan territory early in the fourth quarter and backup quarterback James Franklin plunged one yard for a touchdown, the team’s first of the game. That brought Toronto to within five (17-12) despite being outplayed to that point.
After the Riders responded with the Marshall pick-six, Ray pushed back and led the team on a scoring drive. Franklin, in again for short yardage, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Declan Cross to make it 24-19 with two minutes left.
But it was too little, too late at that point.
Quarterback Zach Collaros, making his Roughriders debut, along with running back Jerome Messam marched Saskatchewan down the field and capped the late drive with a Brett Lauther field goal to put the game out of reach.
“Our defensive line is crazy,” said Riders receiver Naaman Roosevelt., who caught Collaros’ first touchdown pass as a Roughrider, a 13-yard strike in the first half.
“Even our secondary was going all out tonight. We hate seeing all those guys every day at practice. Those guys do a great job and we rely on them to make plays. Our receivers make plays too, but it was our defence that stepped up tonight.”
Collaros finished the night 18-of-25 passing for 203 yards. Messam rushed 21 times for 72 yards.
James Wilder Jr., the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2017, didn’t factor in the Argos offence either in the first half. He finished the game with just 17 rushing yards. He did, however, catch four passes for 68 yards.
In Week 2, the Riders will visit the Ottawa Redblacks on Thursday. Toronto will return home on Saturday and host the Calgary Stampeders.