Geroy Simon showed that he can still dazzle Friday night.
With the newly acquired receiver Arland Bruce watching from the sidelines, Simon caught seven passes, including one for a 63-yard touchdown, as the B.C. Lions registered their first win of the Canadian Football League season with a 24-11 decision over the struggling Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"Geroy showed that, even at the elder age that he is, he still has the jets to turn on the speed," said Lions coach Wally Buono.
The Lions posted their first victory after five season-opening losses and moved into a tie with the Riders for third place in the West Division. Both clubs sport identical 1-5 records after an early-season game that was viewed as critical to playoff positioning.
Simon, a 35-year-old slotback, finished with 134 receiving yards and moved within 87 of Daren Flutie (14,426) for third place in all-time CFL reception yardage.
"I was just feeling good," said Simon. "It just felt good to get into the flow of the game and get going."
Simon racked up 116 receiving yards in the first half alone. But he downplayed his chance to surpass Flutie.
"I'm not really looking at [Flutie's mark] right now," said Simon. "I just want to get victories."
Simon's second-quarter touchdown gave the Lions an insurmountable 17-0 lead. He also caught three consecutive passes earlier in the second quarter to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Tim Brown.
The fine performance came after the Lions acquired veteran slotback Bruce in a trade earlier in the week. The deal was designed to help create more room for Simon, who has often faced extra coverage while rookies dropped passes.
"[Simon] is our big guy and this is why I think the addition of Arland Bruce is going to be another big positive," said Buono. "[Bruce] is that kind of receiver."
Simon echoed his sentiments about Bruce. But Simon also showed that he could find space on his own. Buono said Simon has been able to get open in previous games, but the Lions were able to make him more of a target against the Riders as the Saskatchewan defence provided the looks the hosts wanted.
"We just took what they gave us," said Simon. "[Offensive co-ordinator Jacques] Chapdelaine had a good game plan. We believed in the plays that he was calling — and we just executed. During the losing streak, we had opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. We took advantage of them tonight."
Buono also praised rookie Shawn Gore, who caught five passes for 48 yards, after being criticized publicly for dropping several passes in earlier games. Gore also ran 19 yards on a reverse, while jumping over two Saskatchewan defenders, to set up a first-quarter field goal.
"Shawn Gore, under a lot of adversity and under a lot of criticism showed, again, why he's worth taking a bullet for," said Buono.
Kicker Paul McCallum provided the Lions' other points on three field goals, from 33 and 30 yards in the first and second quarters and 30 again in the fourth as well as a 59-yard punt single in the late going.
Silencing the critics
B.C. built a 20-10 half-time as quarterback Travis Lulay, criticized for recent inconsistent play, completed 12 of 14 passes. The Lions would have had a larger lead, but Lulay was the victim of three untimely sacks, including two in scoring range.
Lulay said Simon's strong first half was the difference as the Lions ended their losing skid. After scrambling to catch up in their previous games, the Lions led from start to finish.
"We've started slow a lot of football games," said Lulay. "[Simon] was great — the way he played like that in the first half like that was huge," said Lulay. "For us to put up 20 points in the first half, it was good. It gave us the confidence to play good throughout the football."
On the night, Lulay completed 18 of 27 attempts for 257 yards and one interception.
Saskatchewan could only muster one touchdown, on a 13-yard reception by Chris Getzlaf in the second quarter, against a rebuilt B.C. secondary that has been hampered by injuries. Riders quarterback Darian Durant completed 25 of 36 attempts for 236 yards as he faced a strong B.C. defensive line.
B.C. led 3-0 after an uneventful first quarter. Paul McCallum put B.C. on the scoreboard nine minutes into the game as he booted a 33-yard field goal. The Lions had to settle for three points after receiver Shawn Gore, maligned for recent dropped passes, ran 19 yards to the Saskatchewan 19-yard-line on a reverse, but Lulay overthrew Simon in the end zone and then the Lions quarterback was sacked.
But Lulay atoned for his miscues early in the second quarter. He completed three consecutive passes to Simon and then handed the ball off to Brown for a one-yard touchdown run, staking the Lions to a 10-3 advantage.
Just over two minutes later, Lulay connected with Simon for the 63-yard touchdown, enabling the Lions to go ahead 17-0. With the TD, Simon surpassed 100 yards worth of receptions before the game was 20 minutes old. The Lions threatened to score another TD about five minutes later, but Dario Romero sacked Lulay and forced them to settle for a McCallum field goal that put them ahead 20-3.
In the final minute of the second quarter, the Riders narrowed the gap to 20-10 as Durant threw the 13-yard TD strike to Getzlaf in the corner of the end zone.
Saskatchewan applied pressure in the third quarter but could not put up any points for most of the period. Kicker Eddie Johnson's 35-yard field goal attempt hit the goal post, leaving the Riders with nothing after a prolonged drive.
Tristan Jackson's interception of a Lulay pass intended for Nick Moore at the Saskatchewan 50 gave the Riders another chance. But they could only muster a single on Johnson's missed 40-yard field goal attempt before McCallum booted the final four points of the night.