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McKnight, Craig lead streaking Riders to 29-11 victory over struggling Argos

Toronto Argonauts' Brian Jones is hit as he attempts to catch a pass by Saskatchewan Roughriders' Fred Bennett during second half CFL action in Toronto, Saturday, October 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
October 15, 2016 - 7:35 PM

TORONTO - Joe McKnight gained a measure of redemption Saturday while dealing the Toronto Argonauts' faint playoff hopes a blow.

McKnight ran for 150 yards and a TD in his first CFL start in leading the streaking Saskatchewan Roughriders past the struggling Argos 29-11 at BMO Field. McKnight began the season with Edmonton but was let go in August because of fumbling issues.

He fumbled two punt returns in the Eskimos' 39-36 overtime win over the Riders on July 8 and was relegated to the practice roster before being released.

"It was like a redemption game for me," McKnight said. "The last time I played I had two fumbles and you're only as good as your last game so I had to take this game very personally.

"I came out here with a chip on my shoulders and wanted to redeem myself."

McKnight opened with a 29-yard run on the first of his 17 carries as Saskatchewan (5-10) earned its fourth straight win. But the Riders must be content playing the role of spoiler as they've been eliminated from playoff contention.

"We're not in the playoffs so it makes me sick to my stomach," said Chris Jones, the Riders head coach/vice-president of football operations. "Joe has had a problem in the past of getting a little loose with the football and I was proud that he took care of it.

"Certainly he made the most of his opportunities."

Quarterback Darian Durant said the Riders were well aware of the difficulties Toronto endured last weekend in its 48-20 home loss to Calgary. CFL rushing leader Jerome Messam ran for 133 yards against the Argos, 99 coming in the first half.

McKnight had 113 rushing yards on 11 carries in the first half Saturday.

"When you break down film, you look at what teams have done well against your upcoming opponent," he said. "We saw Calgary kind of pounded the ball against that front and we came in with the same mentality."

Joe Craig provided more fireworks with a 71-yard punt return TD in the second quarter that helped stake Saskatchewan to a 20-0 half-time lead.

"That's why you tackle the guy when the ball is bouncing and take a five-yard no yards," Jones said. "When they back up it's somebody else's play every time."

After registering its first four wins by a combined eight points, Saskatchewan easily recorded the West Division's 14th straight victory over an East Division rival. The West is 23-8 overall head to head.

Durant finished 15-of-22 passing 164 yards and TD strikes of 14 yards to Craig and five yards to Caleb Holley. After Mitchell Gale played in the second half, the Riders went with Brandon Bridge of Mississauga, Ont., at quarterback for the final 2:33.

Toronto (5-11) suffered its fifth straight loss and ninth in 10 games. The Argos also closed out the home portion of their schedule a dismal 2-7 at BMO Field and heard it throughout the contest from the announced gathering of 15,023.

And with good reason as it was the club's second straight abysmal home performance. That prompted Diane Clemons — the wife of former Argos head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons — to tweet Saturday, "@TorontoArgos time for a #REAL #SHAKEUP starting with front office and #coaching staff .... #embarrassing."

A sombre Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said he's more concerned with the state of his football team than his job status.

"The pain in that locker-room is something I haven't felt in a long time," he said. "We're working so hard to get better and it's not coming out on the field.

"All three phases are failing at one point or another."

Toronto scored all of its points in the fourth. Lirim Hajrullahu broke the shutout with a 17-yard field goal 1:17 into the frame before Dan LeFevour's 22-yard scoring strike to Brandon Whitaker and two-point toss to Anthony Coombs at 10:53 cut Saskatchewan's lead to 29-11.

Despite the loss, Toronto remains in playoff contention, just two points behind second-place Hamilton (6-9) in the East but must finish ahead of the Ticats having lost the season series. And the Argos finish their season on the road in Calgary (13-1-1) and Edmonton (8-7-0).

Later Saturday, Calgary defeated Montreal 22-8, earning the West the crossover. That means the fourth-place squad in the West — currently Edmonton — will assume the East Division's third and final playoff spot.

"It would be a crazy story to come back and win two," Whitaker said. "Nobody believes that but the guys in this locker-room.

"However we've got to keep pushing forward, we've got to have faith."

Toronto quarterback Drew Willy was 11-of-23 passing for 87 yards before being replaced late in the third by LeFevour.

Tyler Crapigna booted three converts and two field goals for Saskatchewan. The other points came on a safety.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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