The fumble on the first play from scrimmage looked like a bad omen for Travis Lulay.
But he made sure it wasn't.
After committing the early turnover, the B.C. Lions quarterback delivered a strong performance to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 24-5 on Sunday before a crowd of 34,343 at B.C. Place.
Lulay ran for one touchdown, threw for another and handed off for one more as the Lions (5-3) retained sole possession of first place by posting their third straight win.
"Mistakes are going to happen in a football game," said Lulay. "That's an important part, when a mistake happens being able to take a deep breath, relax, go out and play the next play without getting flustered and I was able to do that and the team felt that around me."
The Riders (3-4) suffered their fourth straight loss after opening the season with three consecutive wins.
Saskatchewan has not won since beating B.C. in July. Conversely, the Lions have not lost since then.
"Right now at this point we've got work to do," said Riders coach Corey Chamblin. "We'll find a way to win. There's some individual units that are getting better. That's the positive about it.
"I understand that we're a young team — that's no excuse. That was a good B.C. Lions team out there today, a veteran team. We've just got to make sure that we get some of our young guys turning into vets soon."
Arland Bruce and Ernest Jackson scored B.C.'s other touchdowns. The Lions' other points came in the form of converts from kicker Paul McCallum.
Saskatchewan only managed a first-quarter field goal by Sandro DeAngelis, who only made two attempts, and a safety conceded by McCallum in the final minute.
The Lions held their opponent without a touchdown, and under 10 points, for the third straight game. Cauchy Muamba led the way defensively as he recorded two interceptions.
B.C.'s strong defensive performance came despite the absence of key pass rusher Khalif Mitchell, who sat out the first of a two-game suspension for twisting Edmonton offensive lineman Simeon Rottier.
"We feel pretty good about winning football games if the opponent's only scoring five (points)," said Lulay. "That's just a great effort by our defence, especially in the first half when we weren't real consistent. We blew an opportunity down close and then the defence got a stop."
Lulay extended his touchdown-pass streak to 18 games, completing 22 of 30 passes for 257 yards. Saskatchewan's Darian Durant went 18 for 27 with 170 yards before he was pulled in the fourth quarter. His backup Drew Willy completed all five of his pass attempts, but could not generate any points.
Both Lulay and Durant passed effectively in the first half, but hurt their teams with untimely miscues.
Saskatchewan couldn't attempt an onside kick on the opening kick-off, but got the ball the B.C. 42-yeard-line when Lulay fumbled on the Lions' first play from scrimmage.
The Riders' offence struggled and was hampered by an illegal procedure penalty, but they managed to get three points as Sandro DeAngelis connected on a 36-yarder.
The Riders threatened to score again on their next drive, but Muamba recorded his first interception, giving B.C. the ball at its 25-yard-line. However, the Lions couldn't get far and were soon forced to punt.
The Lions stalled again on their next drive, but Saskatchewan's Craig Butler kept it alive as he was penalized for contacting McCallum on his punt. B.C. then took the ball to the Saskatchewan two, but backup quarterback Mike Reilly was denied on a third-and-one attempt.
The rejection came after the Lions declined a Saskatchewan offside penalty that would have moved the ball back, but given B.C. a repeat of second down.
On the ensuing drive, the Riders were forced to settle for a 47-yard field goal attempt, but DeAngelis was wide and Tim Brown ran the ball to midfield before was clotheslined by Tearrius George. The penalty gave B.C. the ball at Saskatchewan's 34 and B.C. advanced to the Saskatchewan five.
This time, Lulay succeeded in running the ball into the end zone, staking the Lions to a 7-3 half-time lead.
Late in the third quarter, Lions defensive back Dante Marsh intercepted a Durant pass and returned it 43 yards to set the stage for a McCallum 24-yard field goal that put B.C. up 10-3.
Just before the third quarter ended, Lulay connected with Arland Bruce on a 55-yard touchdown pass.
"The safety, he made a mistake and left us open, and Travis took advantage of it," said Bruce, who made three catches for 93 yards.
B.C. defensive lineman Maurice Evans, who took Mitchell's spot on the roster, came up big early in the fourth quarter as he stopped Riders backup quarterback Drew Willy on a third-and-one situation, forcing a turnover on downs.
Lulay then guided the Lions on a nine-play scoring drive that culminated with his hand-off to receiver Jackson for a 15-yard touchdown off a 15-yard reverse.
Saskatchewan finally scored again with 39 seconds left in the game as McCallum decided to concede the safety rather than punt from the end zone.
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