OTTAWA — Nathan Rourke showed why everyone is talking about him with an impressive outing in the B.C. Lions’ 34-31 win over the Ottawa Redblacks on Thursday night.
The young Canadian quarterback is being compared to some of the league’s best of all time, and while it might be early to hand him the crown, he’s definitely made an impression leading the Lions to a third straight CFL victory.
Rourke finished the game at TD Place Stadium completing 23 of 31 passes for 359 yards, two passing touchdowns, one rushing TD and two interceptions, the first of his career.
"I’ve never met someone with more confidence in himself,” said Lions running back James Butler. “He’s a great leader and even better person and there’s no other quarterback I want to play for.”
Much was made about the short week for the Lions, who played last Saturday against Toronto and had the cross-country travel, while the Redblacks were coming off a bye week.
"It’s a huge win for us to fly across the country,” said Lions head coach Rick Campbell. “Ottawa’s a good team so to beat these guys on the road, I’m really proud of our guys … we made enough plays to win the game.”
The same can’t be said about the Redblacks as they dropped their third consecutive game.
“You know, we made probably too many mistakes against a good football team,” said Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice. “You can’t give up the edge, you can’t drop coverage. You’ve got to be a little bit more consistent offensively, we had too many two-and-outs.”
There were some positives as Ottawa managed to score three touchdowns after having gone nine quarters without making it to the red zone, but moral victories are starting to ring hollow.
After having thrown for more than 700 yards in his first two games, Ottawa quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was 13 for 26 for 159 yards with one rushing TD on this night.
Masoli knows he needs to be better if his team hopes to get in the win column.
“I was all right,” admitted Masoli. “I missed some throws in the beginning … for the most part we had a lot of stuff there, we just weren’t executing.”
The Redblacks trailed 14-6 at the half, but thanks to a couple interceptions by Money Hunter they were able to take a 20-14 lead.
Hunter picked off Rourke and ran the ball back to the Lions 16-yard line. Three plays later William Powell, playing his first game of the season, ran in a five-yard touchdown and two penalties and three two-point attempts later it was 14-14.
On B.C.’s next possession, Hunter came up with another interception, running the ball back 56 yards to the Lions seven-yard line. Ottawa completed the drive as Masoli punched in a one-yard TD. Lewis Ward had a rare miss on the convert and Ottawa took a 20-14 lead.
Ward has only missed six of 46 career convert attempts.
With three interceptions this season, Hunter has set a career high, but admitted the only mindset heading to Saskatchewan next week can be on getting a win.
“Come to play and come to win,” said Hunter about next week’s matchup in Regina. “That’s the only message you can give everyone right now. Everybody needs a (win) just to get their heads up.”
While some young quarterbacks might have been rattled after getting picked off, Rourke came right back connecting with Keon Hatcher for a 71-yard TD pass and with the convert regained a 21-20 lead.
Rourke credited his teammates for being able to bounce back.
“I’m human and I make mistakes, but I’ve got a phenomenal team around me,” said Rourke. “I’ve been telling you guys for the last three weeks, it’s not just me and you didn’t believe me. I think we showed tonight this is a really good team and I just happen to play on it.”
B.C. never looked back as Butler added another touchdown to make it 28-20, and Sean Whyte had 32- and 15-yard field goals to round out the Lions scoring.
Ward added a 38-yard field goal midway through the fourth and in the final minute of play the Redblacks managed to march down field and get to the one-yard line, thanks to a pass interference call, and Caleb Evans punched in a TD. A two-point convert made it 34-31 with 29 seconds remaining.
After not having a single two-and-out last week the Redblacks handed Rourke his first on the opening drive, but he then showed why people are so excited about his game.
On B.C.’s next possession, on a third-and-short gamble Rourke ran for a 50-yard touchdown and the Lions took an early 7-0 lead.
Rourke connected with Hatcher in the second quarter and got the Lions to Ottawa’s three-yard line. Butler then ran in an eight-yard TD to make it 14-3.
Ottawa’s first half scoring came off 35- and 28-yard field goals from Ward.
FOOT NOTES: The Lions next game is against the defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers on July 9 at BC Place. The winless Edmonton Elks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats will square off Friday in Hamilton. The Montreal Alouettes (1-2) will be in Regina on Saturday to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2-1), and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3-0) will play the Argonauts (1-1) in Toronto on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press