Saskatchewan

Ticats linebacker Lawrence suspended two games for hit on Riders quarterback

The CFL suspended Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence for two games Monday for hitting Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros in the head during the league's regular-season opener Thursday night.

Riders head coach says suspension seems fair

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros is hit late by Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Simoni Lawrence after Collaros was downed by Tiger-Cats' Julian Howsare during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on June 13, 2019. (Pete Power/The Canadian Press)

The CFL suspended Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence for two games Monday for hitting Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros in the head during the league's regular-season opener Thursday night.

A scrambling Collaros left the game after the hit in the first quarter. Collaros missed four regular-season games and the West Division semifinal last season with a concussion.

Lawrence received a 25-yard roughing-the-passer penalty — one of three flags Hamilton took for 50 yards on Saskatchewan's opening drive. Hamilton went on to win 23-17.

"Player safety is the top priority for CFL," commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. "This point was stressed yet again as recently as June 12, the day before the game in question, in a league memo to all clubs which clearly stated: "Any player who performs an illegal act that creates a substantial and unnecessary risk of injury to an opposing player in a reckless and dangerous manner and outside of the acceptable standards of play will be subject to a suspension."

"We all need to walk all of this talk in a meaningful way now, at the outset of our season, by sending and supporting a clear and unequivocal message on player safety."

Collaros was placed on the six-game injured list Sunday.

A repentant Lawrence said after Thursday's game he didn't mean to hurt his former teammate. Collaros spent four seasons in Hamilton (2014-17) before being traded to Saskatchewan in January, 2018.

"He was running full speed, I was running full speed and then he slid last second and I just couldn't pull up," said Lawrence, a three-time CFL East all-star. "It wasn't intentional at all . . . I feel bad about it because I actually care about Zach.

"As a defensive player you play at a high level . . . it's hard to say, 'Go make a play and pull up if the guy slides at the last second.' In slow motion it might look like it's easy but when the bullets are flying it's tough. I'm apologetic and I'm going to try to do a better job to not do that."

Lawrence could appeal the suspension. If he did, he'd be able to continue playing until the appeal is heard.

This marks the first time Lawrence has received supplementary discipline from the CFL since coming into the league in 2012. Ambrosie also noted Lawrence's comments about the hit following the game.

"However, dangerous and reckless play must be disciplined, not simply for the sake of punishment alone, but to deter such play in the future," he said. "All of us, league and players, need to take and support strong action to promote and protect player health and safety, and we need to work together."

Riders coach satisfied with suspension

Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said the suspension seemed fair.

"Whatever they decide, I support," he said. "It seems like a fair result of what happened."

Dickenson said it is very difficult to judge a player's intent.

"I felt like the hit was violent and against the rules," he said. "The league decided to suspend him two games, and I support what the league decides on it."

When asked about losing Collaros that way so early in the season given his history of concussions, Dickenson admitted it was upsetting.

"I feel really for Zach," he said. "I mean he worked so hard in this off-season to get right and to get ready physically. And he was ready."

Riders to use both Fajardo and Harker next game

Dickenson said the Riders weren't sure who was going to start in Thursday's game in Ottawa, but that the team planned to use both Cody Fajardo and Isaac Harker at quarterback.

"We feel we can win with both of those guys," he said.

Dickenson said whoever is the starter might not play as much as the backup.

"Ultimately, near the end of the game, you go with the hot hand, whoever is playing best," he said. "But early in the game, we're going to go ahead and give them both some reps and try to change the pace of the game."

With files from Charles Lalande

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