The battle for a spot in the Saskatchewan Roughriders' receiving corps heated up Friday night during the Riders' 23-22 exhibition win over the Edmonton Eskimos.
Faced with replacing Andy Fantuz, who signed with the Chicago Bears, and Rob Bagg, who has an injured knee, there were a lot of eyes on rookie receiver Terrance Nunn to step up in his first CFL game.
Patrick Brown, however, drew a lot of attention after hauling in a 50-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
"Coach [Greg] Marshall made a statement: 'Know your job. Do your job. Shut down the guy next to you and when you get a chance to make a play, make it,"' said Brown, who caught three passes for 61 yards, leading all Saskatchewan receivers.
"That was all I was thinking about, just making a play when it came."
Brown's big play came midway through the third quarter when he came from a four-receiver pack on the right side of the formation. He saw Edmonton's safety sitting on the receiver to the left side, so he ran in behind. Rider quarterback Cole Berquist found him at the last moment for the TD that put Saskatchewan up 22-11 with the Christopher Milo convert.
That play caught the attention of Marshall, but the Bethune Cookman product wasn't the only rookie receiver to impress his head coach.
"Ernie [Wheelwright] did a great job a couple times on short balls," said Saskatchewan's rookie head coach. "They don't look like big plays, but Patrick Brown doesn't get his touchdown catch if Ernie doesn't catch one earlier and run over a guy to get the first down and keep the drive going.
"Both those guys did a good job. We talked to guys this week about everybody gets an opportunity and now it's what you make of that opportunity and it's good to see guys like that step up and take advantage of it."
Wheelwright finished the day with four receptions for 32 yards. Nunn caught one pass for two yards.
Veteran Cary Koch also drew a large cheer from the 29,130 spectators when he dove to make a 31-yard reception that eventually led to a six-yard Wes Cates touchdown run that opened the scoring.
Other than the receivers, Marshall found it difficult to evaluate other players due to the wind that gusted up to 80 kilometres per hour at Mosiac Stadium.
Punts into the wind didn't travel very far, making it very difficult on quarterbacks and kickers.
Marshall hoped to evaluate the Riders' special teams more than he was able to, but he was pleased to see Hugh Charles return a Damon Duval punt 70 yards to pay dirt in the first quarter.
Despite facing difficult conditions, which Marshall thought were the worst his team may face this season, he was also impressed with his quarterbacks.
Berquist finished the day completing 7-of-8 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Dinwiddie also went 7-for-8 for 95 yards. Chris Leak only completed three of 10 passes for 10 yards.
Milos and Eddie Johnson both added singles for Saskatchewan.
Calvin McCarty scored for Edmonton on a six-yard run in the second quarter while Youssy Pierre also scored a touchdown on a six-yard reception from Matt Nichols.
Duval scored a 38-yard field goal in the second. Derek Schiavone added a 14-yard field goal but missed a pair in the game, including a 55-yard attempt on the last play of the game.
Nichols completed 6-of-10 passes for 53 yards and the touchdown. Kerry Joseph, who started the game for Edmonton, went 3-for-9 for 32 yards. Regina native Marc Mueller completed all three of his passes for 45 yards while Eric Ward was 6-for-8 for 77 yards in his brief time behind centre.
Ray Fisher led all Eskimo receivers with four receptions for 77 yards. McCarty rushed for 62 yards on 10 attempts.
Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed has until June 24 to decide who he wants to dress for the Eskimos' final exhibition game against Calgary.
Marshall has even less time as Saskatchewan will visit the B.C. Lions June 22.
Although he didn't hint what, if any, cuts were coming, Berquist believes there will be some tough decisions for Saskatchewan's coaches on what to do with the team's receivers.
"I think we're loaded as far as receivers go right now," he said. "I know we can't keep everyone, but it will be interesting to see who we do keep because I think they all have a ton of talent."